All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Complete, 10/11

Finished stories set in an alternate universe to that introduced in the show, or which alter events from the show significantly, but which include the Roswell characters. Aliens play a role in these fics. All complete stories on the main AU with Aliens board will eventually be moved here.

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 88, 8/23

Post by Kathy W » Sun Aug 30, 2009 4:02 pm

Hello to everyone reading!
Misha wrote:no matter which part I take, it's still bad... well, except Lewis getting all dirty in the woods, that's satisfying :lol:
:lol: Would that the j*ck*ss had sunk into the mud up to his waist. They could have left him there for River Dog to find. :twisted:
Michelle in Yonkers wrote:So the light in the sky was really to decoy Brivari.
Him and everyone else. They all went running, conveniently getting at least some enemies out of the way. I wonder if Brivari realized that Jaddo's "puppies to a food bowl" comment applied to him as well. (Probably better if he didn't. ;) )

The thing is, there is sound logic to much of Jaddo's viewpoint. It is arguably dangerous to have all one's eggs in one basket, especially when those eggs are so few and so valuable. If Jaddo had waited until Nicholas got bored and left town, Brivari may have been willing to consider moving some of the hybrids, even if only to shut him up. But he's too impatient for that, and not one to compromise even on a good day.





CHAPTER EIGHTY-NINE




November 2, 1959, 11:00 p.m.

Ruth Bruce's boarding house





Dee pulled her father's car alongside the curb in front of her old boarding house and shut off the engine. She felt faintly ridiculous coming out here so late, but then she hadn't been able to sleep, and Courtney was likely to either still be awake or have only just gone to bed. Add to that the fact that she'd wanted to come alone, and that settled it. No one would miss her at this hour.

The car door closing sounded too loud on the quiet street; even her footsteps on the front walk seemed noisier than usual. The sound of a television floated from the back of the house when she opened the front door; Mrs. Bruce must be watching TV, one of her favorite pastimes. Still, the landlady famously hated noise at this hour, so Dee was careful to squelch her impatience and tiptoe all the way up the stairs. She'd been dying to talk to Courtney all day, especially since Anthony had, for some odd reason, agreed to stay in town, at least for awhile. Since Courtney thought they were leaving soon, she wanted her to know otherwise as soon as possible.

She's up, Dee thought gratefully as she stood in front of Courtney's door and heard her moving around. Not that she would have been upset at being awakened, but it was better not to have to. "Courtney?" she called, knocking softly on the door. "It's Dee. I'm sorry it's so late, but can I come in?"

The sounds of movement abruptly ceased, followed by a pause which grew uncomfortably long. Why was she taking so long to open the door? Was someone else in there with her? Her father, maybe? But then why would he hesitate to open the door? Mr. Harris had been strangely subdued upon hearing the details of Malik's death, not at all angry or judgmental like she'd expected. For a moment there, she'd actually entertained the notion that Malik's sacrifice might have taught him something....

Dee startled back to the present as the door suddenly opened to reveal a man she'd never seen before who was peering at her curiously. No....not curiously. Suspiciously.

"What do you want?" he demanded.

"I....was looking for Courtney," Dee answered warily.

"Why?"

"I'm a friend of hers. I used to live across the hall from her."

The man's eyes narrowed. "Do all her friends come looking for her this late at night?"

Dee's heart began to pound. Something had pretty clearly happened, and whatever it was, it wasn't good....which meant she had to get into that room. "I'm home from college for just a few days, so I won't get much chance to see her," she said lightly. "I'm sure she won't mind. Courtney!" she called, pushing past the man so quickly that he didn't have time to object. "Sorry to bother you, but...."

Dee stopped just inside the door. Another man she'd never seen before was on the far side of the room, Courtney was nowhere in sight, and the entire room was in shambles, drawers pulled out, the bed stripped, even the refrigerator opened. Dee's eyes brushed the empty space on the bedside table which usually held a drawer, now upended on the floor; Courtney used to kept her trithium generator in that drawer when she was sleeping, but it wasn't there now.

Both men stared at her appraisingly as Dee did her best to look confused, acutely aware that in her haste to rescue Courtney, she'd landed herself alone in a room with two undoubtedly hostile aliens. One whiff that she knew anything about them, and it was unlikely she'd leave alive. "Where's Courtney?" she asked innocently, looking around at the mess. "Is she moving out?"

The tension in the room eased slightly....but only slightly. "Can I leave her a message?" Dee went on. "I have to go back to school soon, so I don't know if I'll get back here again before I leave."

Buy it, Dee prayed desperately as doubt flickered in the men's eyes and she did some frantic calculations. The man at the window was far enough away to evade, but the one who had answered the door was planted squarely in front of and every bit as wide as that door. Getting past him wasn't going to be easy.

"What do you think?" the door man asked.

"About what?" Dee asked.

"It's long been rumored they had allies here," the second one answered, ignoring her.

"True," door man murmured, fastening hard eyes on her. "Where are they?"

"Where are who?" Dee said, resisting the urge to back up as both men started walking slowly toward her.

"You know who," door man said sharply. "Where are they hiding?"

"Okay, guys?" Dee said quickly. "You're scaring me. What are you talking about? You're not....wait. You're not with those conspiracy theorists who think Hitler faked his own death and is still trying to take over the world, are you?"

She was waiting for doubt to set in again, but this time it didn't. They kept advancing, slowly but surely, and it occurred to her that it must look odd that she wasn't backing up. Wasn't that what a normal human would do? Standing her ground just made her look like the perfect ally, which was exactly what she didn't want. "Look, I don't know who you are," she said, moving backwards, "but I really don't care. I came here to see my friend, and since she's not here, I'll just run along."

Dee's backward travels came to an abrupt halt when she bumped into something, and with a sudden flash of inspiration, she gave whatever it was a hard shove. There was a loud crash as the bedside table rocked back against the wall, toppling its lamp and sending her sprawling to the floor. Fortuitously as it turned out, because from this angle she could clearly see the edge of a trithium generator wedged between the mattress and the box spring right where Courtney could have reached down and grabbed it. They'd stripped the bed, but they hadn't gone far enough.

The noise of the lamp falling had produced the expected reaction. "What was that?" called an alarmed voice from downstairs. Mrs. Bruce never could abide noise after 10 p.m., and the muffled sound of slipper-clad feet promptly sounded on the stairs. Both men's heads swung toward the door, and Dee seized that opportunity to snatch the generator and scramble to her feet. She was shoving it in her pocket when Mrs. Bruce rapped on the door.

"Miss Harris? What was that noise? Is everything all right?"

Their attention still diverted, Dee darted past the men and pulled the door open. "Mrs. Evans!" exclaimed Mrs. Bruce, clad in a fuzzy robe and slippers. "What was...." She stopped peering past her. "What's going on?" she demanded. "Who are these people? Where is Miss Harris?"

"I'm not sure," Dee said, edging into the hallway. "I'm guessing that Courtney's moving out."

"She is? She hasn't said anything to me!" Mrs. Bruce exclaimed. "Honestly, that family is more trouble than they're worth! First she's here, then she's not, then she's back, then he's here, and now what? Is her father moving out too?"

"Couldn't tell you," Dee said brightly. "I should be going. I'll have to catch her another time."

"Well, when you do, tell her they have to give me a full month's notice," Mrs. Bruce said stoutly. "You, too," she added to the men, who hadn't said a word or moved a muscle. "I can't afford to have paying tenants just up and leave without having time to replace them. Honestly, don't people understand this is my livelihood? How am I supposed to eat if I don't have money coming in? I already put up with weeks of an empty house, and...."

But Dee didn't hear the rest of it. The looks on the men's faces made it clear that Mrs. Bruce's diatribe had done what Dee's had failed to do—convinced them that she knew nothing about Courtney's true identity. She'd gotten herself out of harm's way, but Courtney was still missing, and she'd left Mrs. Bruce back there all by herself.

Maybe it was time to call in professional help.




******************************************************



Outskirts of Roswell




Courtney peered out the window at the barn which had been the site of Malik's death. What did it mean, her being brought here? Greer had behaved in a completely neutral manner after awakening her so gruffly, waiting at least somewhat patiently until she'd dressed and delivering her to a car driven by two barely familiar operatives who were polite, but silent. But he wouldn't say what all this was about, nor did he join them, remaining behind as the car drove off. Was he collecting other people? Or had something happened to her father? Or since they were back at the barn, had they captured another Covari? Or....

She closed her eyes, mentally pushing away the worst of the possibilities. And the most likely, she admitted as one of the operatives held the door open for her. What with Nicholas rummaging around in people's minds and what she'd seen in the trunk of that car earlier, the time was ripe for something to go wrong. Still, she shouldn't just assume that, or she could wind up giving herself away unnecessarily. Besides, if what she feared most were true, why was everyone being so nice to her? She was still ticking down the list of possibilities as she was ushered into the barn's interior....and stopped dead in her tracks.

About a dozen operatives stood in a ring, one of them her father, wearing a guarded expression. And on the floor in the center of that ring were four huge pods, each a giant watery blister, each glowing so brightly that extraneous lights were almost unnecessary. No one stopped her as she walked slowly forward, taking a place in the circle, her eyes on the pods. The one she'd seen in the trunk had seemed huge; here, in this wide open space, they looked even bigger, not smaller as she would have expected. The closest pod held the sleeping form of what looked to be a human boy about Philip's size, curled on his side, a shock of dark hair framing his face. To his left was a female with yellow hair in a similar position. It wasn't hard to guess what the other two contained.

"Hello, Courtney. So glad you could join us."

Courtney's eyes flew up. She hadn't even noticed Nicholas standing across the circle from her. He looked calm, even casual, and for a moment, she entertained the notion that she had merely been summoned to witness the triumph of the hybrids' capture. But that couldn't be it because the only way to find the hybrids would have been to trail the resistance operatives in whose care they had been placed.....and who had ultimately failed to protect them.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" Nicholas asked.

Courtney resisted the urge to look at her father, still uncertain as to how much Nicholas had figured out. "I....I don't know what to say," she answered, not entirely untruthfully. "All this time, and now here they are......however did you find them?"

"That's quite a story," Nicholas said. "Want to hear it?"

His manner was still relaxed, his tone still casual.....and that, she realized, was the problem. Nicholas had what he wanted, had finally found what he'd come here for....and he wasn't excited. He should be hopping from one foot to the other, barely able to contain himself like he'd been when Malik had been captured, yet there he stood, motionless and composed, the very opposite of what he should be, what his nature led him to be. Unless, of course, he was in the midst of fingering a traitor, in which case his behavior was just exactly what she would have expected.

"Of course I want to hear it," she answered.

"Oh, good," Nicholas said happily, as though he'd been afraid she'd refuse. "See, the other night, when I used those human neuro....neuro.....whatever's, I saw something in that Covari's mind that was terribly important. Trouble was that, after I came to, all I remembered was that I'd seen something terribly important. But I couldn't remember what."

"So....you saw where the pods were hidden?" Courtney asked.

Nicholas shook his head. "Nope. That wouldn't work anyway; that would have been harming the king, and they're engineered not to snitch. No, I couldn't remember what I'd seen, and it was driving me nuts....until we caught an operative trying to leave town with these."

"Operative?" Courtney echoed, hoping she sounded sufficiently confused. "Do you mean.....do you mean one of us? None of our people could have known where these were. They would have told you."

"You'd think, wouldn't you?" Nicholas agreed. "But maybe the humans are right and clouds really do have silver linings. Because that's when I remembered what I'd seen in that Covari's sorry excuse for a mind." He leaned into the circle, his eyes roving from one face to another. "Resistance."

There was a sharp intake of breath all around, accompanied by shocked looks that appeared to be genuine. They didn't know, Courtney realized. This was the first they'd heard of it. Meaning Nicholas was still fuzzy on the details, so she and her father might still be all right.

"They followed us," Nicholas continued, beginning a slow circuit of those assembled, walking behind them as they looked at one another in dismay. "After all the precautions I took, all the checks and balances I put in place, the resistance made it all the way to Earth. And do you know what that means? How about you?" he asked the nearest operative, whose eyes widened in alarm. "Take a stab at it. What does that mean?"

"That...." The operative's voice faltered, then recovered. "That they've infiltrated us to very high levels. High enough that they could slip through."

"Very good!" Nicholas replied with false cheer as Courtney's stomach lurched. "They must be way up there to have doctored all those background checks, all the monitoring, all the tap dancing I did to make sure....sure....those scum didn't follow us. Hell, they'd have to be so high up, they'd have to be....me. Or Khivar."

The barn door opened. Greer appeared, followed by another operative, and Courtney's heart sank as he walked up to Nicholas and whispered in his ear. It looked like Nicholas still trusted Greer. For once, she would have felt a lot better if it had been her father whispering in his ear.

"Unfortunately the operative we caught with these wasn't terribly forthcoming," Nicholas said sadly. "Part of that was my fault, I suppose; I've just been informed they didn't live long enough to be of much help. We only managed to get one thing out of them. Would you like to tell everyone what that was.....Michael?"

Gasps sounded around the circle, and any hope that her father had managed to remain hidden evaporated as he fixed his master with a hard stare he would never have used under normal circumstances. "Amazing, isn't it?" Nicholas continued calmly, as though he were conducting a business meeting. "My own third, not only resistance but head of the resistance! Impressive, Michael, very impressive. I have a unique understanding of the difficulties you must have faced in concealing that from me. Under different circumstances, I'd pin a medal on you myself." He walked closer to Michael, who didn't budge. "But these aren't different circumstances, are they?"

There was a pause while everyone waited for a response.

"You are, without a doubt, the worst thing that has ever happened to Antar," Michael said. "Go to hell."

More gasps. Courtney stood frozen to the spot, acutely aware of what her father's response meant. If there had been a chance, however small, that he could have successfully denied the accusation, he would have at least tried to do so; the fact that he hadn't bothered meant the game had been over before she'd entered the building. And now that everyone else here knew, their shock at her father's confirmation would rapidly change to anger, and that anger would become violent. He would be tortured, forced to tell all he knew, and they would make her not only watch, but participate before they started on her.

"Your father tells me," Nicholas continued, "that you knew nothing about this, Courtney. That he was operating independently, that you are not also a member of the resistance. Hard to believe that he could keep that from his own family, but then he did manage to keep it from me. My congratulations again, for all the good it will do him."

Every pair of eyes in the room focused on Courtney, their scrutiny as searing as tiny flames. A way out. That's what her father offered her now. She could easily say she knew nothing; there was no way to track her, no damning communications to find. Even if they accessed the telephone records and discovered how often they'd spoken on the phone, there was no way to learn the content of those conversations. Assuming Nicholas didn't remember more than he was letting on, that is, or the captured operative hadn't spilled anything else....

"So....is this true?" Nicholas asked, standing directly in front of her, close enough to touch her. "Are you loyal to Khivar? Are you loyal to me?"

Say yes. The message pounded inside Courtney's head even though she wasn't looking at her father, didn't dare look at him. They'd already lost an operative, her father was as good as dead, and the resistance needed every operative it could get. All she had to do was tell Nicholas she was loyal, and he'd buy it, for a little while, at least. Long enough to warn the other resistance members, maybe steal some equipment or conduct a little sabotage while Nicholas was still trying to sort it all out....

And then she looked directly into those hard eyes that she would have to bow before the way her father did, they way he had all these years.

"I think I see a chest hair, Nicholas," she said softly. "Way to go."




******************************************************




Roswell Sheriff's Station





Dee stepped hastily aside as she entered the sheriff's station, almost blundering into someone hurrying by. She'd fully expected the place to be dead at this hour, but instead it was hopping, with deputies and a number of men in dark suits alternately scurrying around or arguing with each other. No citizens, she noted as she made her way to the front desk. If there had been an accident, or a robbery, or anything typical, there would be people in here making statements or filing complaints. This was weird.

But maybe good for me, she added as she glanced down the long hallway to the right of the front desk and caught a glimpse of Valenti walking into his office. Whatever was happening was important enough to command the attention of Roswell's sheriff near midnight. She'd been planning to ask for Valenti's home address and go knock on his door and drag him out of bed. This should be easier.

"Hi," she said to the harried deputy at the front desk. "I'm—"

"Dee Evans," the deputy answered. "We met last summer at Courtney Harris' apartment."

Right, Dee thought heavily, recalling that testy encounter. Didn't it just figure that the first person she'd meet would be someone she'd had an argument with. "I need to see the sheriff," she said before there could be any further discussion about their first meeting. "It's really important."

"The sheriff isn't here at this hour. What's the problem?"

"Nice try, but I just saw him go into his office," Dee said blandly.

The deputy shot her an annoyed look. "Then he's busy. Like I said, what's the problem?"

"I'd rather talk to him personally—"

"Of course you would. Wouldn't everyone? But, see, everyone can't do that, which is why the sheriff has a staff. So either you talk to me, or you talk to no one. Which will it be?"

Dee opened her mouth to launch into a retort, then caught herself just in time. "Of course," she answered. "I'll.....come back later."

"Suit yourself," the deputy answered.

Don't mind if I do, Dee thought, backing away from the desk and hesitating before slipping down the hall. It wasn't hard; everyone was so caught up in whatever they were doing that no one paid her any mind. So no one stopped her from walking right up to Valenti's office door or from nearly being run over by the angry man in the dark suit who stormed out of Valenti's office, missing her by inches as he took off down the hallway....and leaving the door open in the perfect invitation.

Valenti was at his desk, digging in one of his lower drawers. "What do you want now?" he barked when he heard his office door close. "Didn't I just get rid of you?"

"Don't be silly," Dee said. "You know you'll never get rid of me."

Valenti's head flew up in surprise. "Mrs. Evans?" he said, checking his watch. "What on earth are you doing here in the middle of the night?"

"Looking for you. I need your help."

"With what?"

For the second time in as many minutes, Dee found herself swallowing what she'd been about to say. Am I really doing this? she thought. Because once done, there was no going back, no way to retract what had been said short of claiming insanity or inebriation. "I'm sorry to bust in on you like this," she babbled, playing for time, for just a few more seconds to weigh her options. "It looks like you've got something big going on—"

"Mrs. Evans—"

"Dee."

"Fine, Dee....we both know that if you're here at this hour, something's very wrong. Out with it."

"Right," Dee said slowly. "Okay. Well....for starters, I....I mean, you....." She paused, the speech she'd hastily put together in the car on the way here sounding suddenly ridiculous.

"You're dithering," Valenti remarked dryly. "You never dither. Guess there really is a first time for—"

"You were right about Courtney Harris," Dee broke in. "Sort of."

Valenti closed the drawer he'd been rifling through with a thud and gave her his full attention. "Did she have something to do with Mark Green?"

"With his murder? No," Dee answered. "With him in other ways......yes."

"How?" Valenti demanded.

Dee fixed her eyes on a point just past Valenti's shoulder, still uncertain this was the right thing to do. "Mark Green was an alien, and....so is Courtney."

Valenti stared at her for a long moment before slowly leaning back in his chair.

"Go on," he said warily.

"Long story short," Dee said, relieved that he wasn't yelling, or freaking out, or doing much of anything. "There are two groups of aliens here, each fighting the other because of a war on their planet. Courtney's technically a member of Group B, but she's part of a rebel faction which supports Group A....and I think she's been discovered."

"Why?"

"Because she's missing. I just left Mrs. Bruce's house, and there are a couple of strange....'men'.....tearing her room apart. I don't think they'll hurt Mrs. Bruce because they can't afford to draw more attention to themselves, but—."

" 'More' attention? What does that mean?"

"The aliens who took Courtney are the ones causing all those weird lights," Dee explained. "The lights are meant to snuff out the aliens in Group A, but they know you're on to them, so I think they'll lay as low as they can. But I'd still like to make sure Mrs. Bruce is okay, so I need you to send some men over there, and I need your help to find Courtney before they kill her."

"Wait a minute," Valenti broke in, holding up a hand. "So after all this time, after years spent fending me off, hell, after spending the entire summer turning a fire hose on me any time I went near Miss Harris.....you suddenly expect me to believe all this?"

Oh, for heaven's sake! Dee thought in exasperation. Of all the reactions she'd expected, rehearsed responses to, disbelief wasn't one of them. She had to be very, very careful how much she revealed, so simply piling on more information wasn't the answer. Still, with only her word for it....

Dee's hand brushed against her pocket, instantly solving her problem. Without a word, she set Courtney's trithium generator in the middle of the desk and pushed a button graced by an indecipherable alien symbol. Valenti's eyes widened as the room was instantly bathed in the pinkish glow which had plagued his town for the past several weeks.

"Shut it off," he hissed suddenly, his eyes darting toward the door. "Shut it off!"

Dee complied, leaving the generator on the desk. Valenti perched on the edge of his chair, peering at it with fascination, never touching it. After what seemed a very long time, he sat back in his chair and began to....laugh. It started as a chuckle and progressed to a cackle before escalating into a full blown guffaw, the kind that leaves you gasping for breath and unable to speak. Dee gaped at him for a good minute, one of the rare times in her life when she found herself at a loss for something to say.

"What's so funny?" she demanded, her being at a loss for words not only rare, but short-lived. "I didn't say anything funny!"

"You most certainly did," Valenti said, wiping his eyes. "How long have we been at it, you and I? More than a decade, starting with that sneaker of yours I found at the crash site and all the way through this summer when you beat me off with a stick any time I got close to Courtney Harris. And when you finally decide to talk to me, to come clean, you pick tonight of all nights. It's not only funny, it's downright hilarious. Or tragic," he added, suddenly sober. "You could call it that too."

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Dee said irritably. "Do you mean because you're busy? You can't be so busy that—"

" 'Busy'?" Valenti echoed. "Do you want to know why I'm 'busy'? Did you happen to see all those suits out there? Yes, of course you did," he said before she could answer. "You don't miss much; you never did. Those suits are the FBI. And not only the FBI, but a special unit within the Bureau whose mandate is to hunt aliens."

"Shit!" Dee exclaimed as Valenti's eyebrows rose. "What the hell are they doing here now? Are they here because of the lights?"

"No, they're here because of a body we found in the woods south of town by the Indian reservation," Valenti answered. "You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?" He paused, taking in her guarded expression. "So," he continued slowly. "I see your sudden burst of honesty has its limits. Doesn't matter, really. There's nothing I can do for you."

"What? Why not?"

"Because I've got the feds on my ass like a rash. They followed me to the woods tonight, and they'll follow me anywhere else I go."

"So we'll lose them," Dee said impatiently. "You of all people should be able to throw off a few nosy agents."

"And the minute I try, they'll know I'm trying," Valenti said. "If Agent Lewis so much as suspects I'm keeping something from him, he'll go after my family; he's already tried once. If he finds out who I've talked to, he'll go after you and your family, which I'm reasonably certain you don't want. And should I happen to locate Miss Harris and extricate her from whatever mess you think she's in, what do you think they'll do to her once they get their hands on her? I seem to recall Captain Spade not having a very high opinion of what happened the last time we held an alien captive, Mrs. Evans. You might be doing Miss Harris a favor by leaving her right where she is."

"I don't believe this!" Dee exclaimed. "I come in here and tell you what you want to know, what you've always wanted to know, and now you won't do anything?"

"It's hard for me to believe too," Valenti sighed. "Maybe harder. But believe me when I say that if I get involved in this now, it could do more harm than good for an awful lot of people. I'll send someone over to Mrs. Bruce's house to check on her....concern for an old lady might slip under their radar.....but that's the most I can do. I'm afraid you're on your own."

"I...." Dee swallowed, thinking of what had happened to Malik when she was on her own. "I don't know if I can do this on my own."

"Of course you can," Valenti said briskly. "You always have." He rose from his chair. "Now get out of here. Use the back door; pretend you have to use the bathroom. And for God's sake, keep this out of sight," he added, pointing to the generator, still unwilling to touch it. "If they catch you with it, I can't protect you, and..." He hesitated, his expression softening. "And you have no idea how much it pains me to say that. I'm sorry."

Theirs eyes locked, what she saw in his squelching any urge to argue the subject further—fear. Valenti was afraid, and anything he was afraid of must be very bad indeed. Without another word, she scooped up the generator, stuffed it in her pocket.....and paused.

"Something else?" Valenti asked.

"Yes," Dee answered, grabbing a pencil from the desk and scribbling on the back of an envelope, which Valenti examined curiously when she handed it to him.

"What's this?"

"If the enemy insists on breathing down your neck, you may as well turn it to your advantage," Dee replied. "Let the FBI follow you. I'm hoping they will."

Valenti smiled faintly. "Why, Mrs. Evans.....that's positively devious. Who in the world have you been talking to?"

"No one from this world. Good luck, sheriff."

"Same to you," Valenti said quietly.

Dee checked the hallway to make certain it was clear before leaving the office. Men in dark suits were near the front doors, so she took Valenti's advice and asked to use the ladies' room, slipping out the back door into the autumn night when she was certain no one was looking. No one was in the parking lot, so she reached her car without attracting attention, climbed into the driver's seat.....

.....and gasped when she lifted her eyes to her rear view mirror and saw who was in her back seat.




*****************************************************




Outskirts of Roswell




Ouch.

Courtney winced as she was forced onto her knees in the center of the ring of operatives, her hands tied behind her back. Beside her knelt her father, radiating waves of disapproval and disappointment that were by now quite familiar. How ironic that here, at the end, he was every bit as disgusted with her as he'd ever been.

Everyone withdrew, moving off to the side around Nicholas, who was now far from calm. Probably giving orders for his torture chamber, she thought sourly, watching the way his eyes glowed, the way his hands moved animatedly like a conductor urging on his symphony. Nicholas so loved torture. It was probably worth it to him to find the resistance lurking in his midst just so he had an excuse to torture someone.

"Why did you do that?" her father hissed beside her. "All you had to do was tell him you were loyal! Was that so difficult?"

"Yes," Courtney said tonelessly.

"Damn it, Courtney, this is no time for games!" Michael exclaimed. "The resistance needed you, and—"

"They wouldn't have had me anyway," Courtney interrupted. "Do you really think he would have believed me if I'd said 'yes'? We both know he wouldn't. And even if he had, I'm not you, Papa. I can't spend years sucking up to that little prick."

"So this is all about you, is it?" Michael demanded.

"Yes, it's all about me," Courtney deadpanned. "Honestly, Papa, you know how it would have gone if I'd told him what he wanted to hear—even if he'd believed me, he would have watched me like a hawk, with anyone I talked to or even came within ten feet of being suspect. I wouldn't have been able to do anything for the resistance under those circumstances except give them away."

"You don't know he wouldn't have believed you," Michael argued. "Nicholas has always had a soft spot for you. I wanted you to help lead the resistance in my place!"

"Me?" Courtney scoffed. "I could never have done that. And why would you even ask me to after spending all that time calling me inexperienced, and immature, and reckless, and every other nasty adjective you could think of?"

Her father paled, and Courtney was instantly sorry she'd said that. "I know I've been hard on you," he admitted. "I haven't told you how proud I am of you nearly enough. But it's only because I knew how talented you are, how smart, and I wanted you to be better. And safe. I wanted you to be safe. That was selfish of me, I suppose."

"Don't be ridiculous, Papa," Courtney said gently. "You've given your whole life to the resistance, and look what you've accomplished. Those couldn't be the only hybrids; some of them must have gotten through. You've earned the right to a little selfishness." She leaned sideways, resting her chin on his shoulder. "I'm not sorry I did what I did. It's better this way. We both know too much, and we can't afford to let him find out what we know. So if we're both dead, then I want to die with you. Next to you. And if that's selfish....so be it."

Heads were turning; it was almost time for the "fun" to begin. "They're coming," Michael whispered.

"I know," Courtney said, not bothering to look. "I promise I won't tell them anything, no matter how much they torture you."

"They're not coming for me," her father said dully. "They're coming for you. They'll torture you, and make me watch."

Courtney shivered slightly. "Makes no difference. You won't tell them anything either."

"No," Michael said, his voice stronger now. "I won't. Nor will I let them use us against each other." He paused. "Forgive me."

Her head flew up. "For what?" she asked warily.

"I love you," her father whispered. "Whatever happens....remember that."

Too late, she saw one of his hands move. She only had a second to recoil before his husk exploded in a shower of skin flakes that rained down on everyone in the barn.






~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



My husband unexpectedly gifted me with a trip to New York City to celebrate our silver wedding anniversary. Image (As you can imagine, I said, "Yes!" Just like I did 25 years ago. :mrgreen: ) So I'll post Chapter 90 on Sunday, September 13. From there it's smooth sailing until October 11 when the last chapter in this book will be posted, and 2 weeks after that, Book 5 will start.
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 88, 8/23

Post by Kathy W » Sun Sep 13, 2009 3:28 pm

Hi everyone! Back from NYC, and we had a wonderful time! Didn't run into Nicholas anywhere, though. :mrgreen:
Michelle in Yonkers wrote:FYI, it was never the sewers. That was just Nicholas , being sarcastic.
And Lonnie--she referred to them as "sewers" also (and she's just as sarcastic!) But I always thought it was a subway tunnel. I tend to not believe much of anything Rath and Lonnie say. :P




CHAPTER NINETY


November 3, 1959, 12:15 a.m.

Outskirts of Roswell





The sound was deafening, like the pop of an ultra-pressurized balloon which momentarily left ears ringing. On her knees with her hands bound behind her back, Courtney squeezed her eyes shut, ducking her head as though expecting a physical blow. But none came; only the soft, featherweight touch of skin flakes, and a silence so profound it was almost painful.

After what seemed like a long time, she opened her eyes. There was nothing where her father had been except the cord which had fallen, still knotted, as the wrists it had bound disappeared. White flakes drifted lazily in the air like snow, settling over a fifteen foot radius. They covered her from head to foot, the last remnants of her own father forming a thin layer which shook loose when she moved. Slowly, she bent her cheek to her leg, rested it against the flakes which had gathered there. Papa. Gone, just like that.

She glanced upwards, blinking as skin flakes sloughed off her eyelashes. The operatives had stopped some distance away as though afraid to come closer, their hands rising to their lower backs in a kind of weird benediction. And in front of them all stood Nicholas and Greer, both open-mouthed with astonishment and, in the case of the former.....rage.

"What happened?" Nicholas demanded. "I never gave an execution order! Who's responsible for this?"

"He is, you jackass," Courtney said, anger pushing grief aside. "He broke his own seal to deprive you of what you wanted. He'll never tell you anything now. It's all gone. It died with him."

"No!" Nicholas ground out, it finally dawning on him what he'd lost. "He can't be! No!"

Suddenly Courtney began to laugh, the nonsensical laughter of one who is over the edge, untouchable. "What's the matter, Nicholas?" she chuckled as the rest of them stared at her in amazement. "Can't you tell 'dead' when you see it? This is a becoming a habit of yours. Everyone who isn't supposed to die, dies anyway: Vilandra, the king, the rest of the royal family, the Covari....and now the leader of the resistance. And those last two died willingly, to keep you from getting what you wanted. You must feel like one special little boy to deserve that kind of—"

Slap. This time a blow did come, knocking her sideways. She fell into a pile of her father's remains, still laughing, skin flakes billowing out around her as she landed. "Stop!" Greer's voice ordered as Nicholas' foot halted inches from her midsection. "She's all we have left to find the rest of them. We need her alive."

"I'll leave her alive," Nicholas said grimly, "but she doesn't have to be healthy."

"Yes, she does," Greer insisted. "The more you damage her, the less information you're likely to get, and the less reliable it will be. Get what you can, and then you can have her."

"Practical as always," Courtney said as Greer scowled at her. But you're not going to get anything out of me. I was just the baby, the one he never told anything. Do your worst. It won't do any good."

"Don't mind if I do," Nicholas said angrily, reaching out and clamping a hand on her head. Pain exploded behind her eyes, and for a moment, she panicked; even though she knew precious few details about the inner workings of the resistance, she knew enough to cause a considerable amount of damage. But Dee had managed to hold him off. If a human could do it, certainly an Argilian ought to be able to, if she could just figure out how....

The pain ceased abruptly as Nicholas doubled over, clutching his own head. "You shouldn't be doing that now," Greer said sharply, pulling him away. "You're still too weak. The doctor made it very clear that you need to rest."

"I can't afford to rest!" Nicholas snapped. "And I can't afford to wait! I need to know now. Let me at her; I'll be all right."

"No you won't," Courtney said, panting from the experience, brief as it had been. "You bombed again, Nicky boy."

"Shut up," Nicholas said darkly.

"I thought you wanted me to talk?" Courtney said innocently. "But then they say indecision is the hallmark of the very young."

"Shut up!" Nicholas exclaimed.

"Why bother?" Courtney said, pushing herself into a sitting position. "You're just going to kill me anyway, trying to find out what I don't know. But that's okay. I really don't mind adding myself to the ever-growing list of your failures. You lost the ship, the next harvest, a Covari, and now the leader of the resistance, whose mere presence calls your competence into question. Khivar will be so pleased."

"Yes, he will be," Nicholas said darkly. "Because you're forgetting something—I have these."

Courtney's eyes dropped to the pods on the barn floor. "There's no mark on the Zan hybrid," Nicholas continued, kneeling beside the nearest male hybrid and giving it a none-too-gentle poke, "so this is one of the spares. But I have Vilandra, and that will go a long way with Khivar. A very long way."

"What makes you think she'd stand by his side after what he did to her family?" Courtney demanded. "Oh, that's right; it's what you did to her family. Maybe Khivar should just blame it on you, and have you executed as a wedding gift."

"Enough!" Greer exclaimed as Nicholas started for Courtney again. "Sir, she's baiting you, and you're falling for it. Shut her up," he added to the nearest operative. "And tie her hands in front so she doesn't get any bright ideas."

"You actually think Michael.....killed himself?" the operative asked doubtfully.

"I don't know what happened," Greer answered, "but I'm not taking any chances."

Hesitant hands took hold of her, shying away from all the skin flakes. They'd probably never seen anyone die that way, and their reactions were much the same as hers had been upon seeing it for the first time. Unfortunately that didn't stop the wide strip of tape being firmly placed over her mouth, or her hands being moved from back to front, one hand brushing against the flap which covered her seal. She'd never given a moment's thought as to how to commit suicide, but her father must have. What exactly did you have to do? Did you pull on the seal, or shake it, or hit it? How hard did you have to do any of those things in order to make it work? She'd have to find out because, eventually, the time would come when she would have to do what her father had done to keep the little she knew from Nicholas. And all for you, she thought as she was pushed down on the floor beside the Zan hybrid, the dark-haired child in the pod sleeping peacefully through all the drama. I hope you appreciate it. Too bad she wouldn't live long enough to make sure he did.

The child's eyes fluttered opened as if in response to her thought....and then widened in what looked suspiciously like alarm. Courtney realized the pod was shrinking at about the same time she felt warm, wet fluid soaking her clothes, seeping all over the floor. Lifting her head in an attempt to keep her hair out of it, she spied the cause: There was a slit in the pod, short, but very effective, the pod's fluid leaking at a steady rate. The hybrid's head was already clear of the fluid, and it looked like it was gasping for breath....

"Hey!" one of the operatives yelled.

Courtney craned her neck further, struggled to sit up. All the pods were leaking, the hybrids inside struggling, thrashing. Operatives yelled and lunged for the pods only to be thrown backwards by an invisible force which sent them flying across the room, crashing into the walls, knocking them senseless. Yelps of surprise were followed by fumbling for generators, and then the entire barn was bathed in infrared light, followed by what felt like some kind of shockwave.

Hands grabbed her again. She fought back, kicking and twisting in their grasp before a voice hissed in her ear, "I'm trying to get you out of here! Move!"

She was dragged backwards, pulled to her feet. Her legs complained, but she half ran, half stumbled, pushed from behind, ignored by everyone else in the barn who was frantically looking for Warders. The cold night air hit her like a slap in the face as she cleared the barn door and another set of hands grabbed her, gentler this time. They kept going, her new benefactor behind her, the sounds of mayhem in the barn growing fainter. She didn't see her rescuer until the barn had dropped from sight and a hand pulled her up short, turning her around.

"Dee!" Courtney gasped when the tape had been ripped from her mouth. "What are you doing here?"

"What's it look like I'm doing?" Dee asked, working on the cords at her wrists with a pocket knife. "And here Anthony always kids me for carrying a Leatherman. Never again."

"You shouldn't be here," Courtney said urgently. "They'll kill you if they find you."

"No, really?" Dee said dryly. She paused, still carving. "Were those pods I saw in there?"

"Yes," Courtney answered. "With 'were' being the operative word."

Dee stopped carving. "Why?"

"Something happened to them. They were leaking; that's what this goo is on me."

" 'Leaking'?" Dee touched Courtney's sleeve, raised her fingers to her nose. "That's why it smelled familiar," she said faintly. "Amniotic fluid."

"What's that?" Courtney asked.

Dee shook her head. "Doesn't matter. They're dead anyway. Valeris told me it was the fluid that kept them alive."

Courtney blinked. "The Queen's Warder....'told' you?"

The last of the cords fell away, and Dee pocketed the knife. "Yeah. A long time ago. I need to get you out of here; the car is up a ways. The Warders will mop up in there."

"Warders?" Courtney repeated. "You mean they're here? As in back in there with Nicholas?"

"Of course. How else could we have gotten you out of there? They got you out, and I took it from there."

"But....I didn't see anything when the infrared came on. They should have been visible—"

"They knew they had to stay behind things as much as possible because Nicholas would use the infrared," Dee said. "And we knew they'd use whatever that thing is that blocks their powers, so they'd only be able to do the fancy stuff for a few seconds. Wait," she added, stopping suddenly. "Something's wrong."

They had rounded a corner. A car was there, pulled quite a ways off the road, and Dee approached it slowly, almost warily. "They were supposed to bring your father here. Where is he?"

Courtney's voice caught in her throat. "He's....not coming."

Dee took a few steps toward her. "Why not? Did they kill him? Why would they do that? They would have wanted what he knew, what he—"

"They didn't kill him," Courtney broke in. "I guess....." She stopped, her throat constricting. "I guess Malik showed him the way."

There was a long silence. No one moved or spoke, Dee and the car behind her mere silhouettes against the night sky. "Oh, God," she whispered finally. " I thought we'd be in time. I'm....I'm so sorry."

"Yeah," Courtney said quietly. "Me too." She walked past Dee toward the car, her arms wrapped tightly around herself.

"Let's go."




******************************************************




*They're gone,* Jaddo reported. *The car has left, and the Argilians scattered, most likely to look for their escaped prisoner.*

Brivari said nothing, standing alone near the center of the barn. The ruined pods lay at his feet, dark now, and flat amid a sea of gestational fluid on which skin flakes floated along with the dust of the hybrids, three of which had already collapsed. There was an irony in the dead of two species mingling that way....or perhaps a lesson. He would figure out which later.

*So,* he said slowly, *we are alone?*

There came a deep sigh behind him. *Yes.*

*Completely alone?*

Jaddo walked around the nearest pod to face him.

*What are you waiting for?*

*An excellent question,* Brivari whispered.

Jaddo jerked backwards, flying a good fifty feet before hitting the wall of the barn with a sickening thud. *You took them!* Brivari said furiously, his mind pushing Jaddo against the wall so hard that Jaddo's head turned sideways. *You took them!*

*Yes, I did,* Jaddo gasped, making no move to defend himself.

*You took them, and you didn't tell me!*

*No, I didn't.*

*And now you lost them!* Brivari exclaimed angrily.

*One set,* Jaddo corrected. *The other got through.*

Brivari stalked to the wall and physically pulled Jaddo off; telekinesis was all well and good, but when one was truly infuriated, it was much nicer to actually have something in your hands to shake. * 'Other' singular? What of the third set, Jaddo? Where is the hybrid with the mark?*

*Right where it should be, with it's fellow hybrids in the pod chamber. They never left.*

*And how many resistance members now know of that chamber?*

Jaddo's eyes flashed, the first sign of anger from him. *Zero. I didn't tell them about the pod chamber. I'm not stupid.*

*You certainly had me fooled!* Brivari snapped. *We lost an entire set of hybrids!*

*A calculated risk,* Jaddo answered.

*An unacceptable risk!* Brivari thundered, shaking him violently. *Fight me, damn you! At least get angry!*

*Why? You're angry enough for both of us.*

*Fight me!*

Jaddo managed a strangled chuckle. *What's the matter, Brivari? Is manhandling the willing not as much fun as you'd hoped? No, I suppose it isn't. Although I find it ironic that you'd discover that with me, of all people.*

Brivari gave Jaddo a hard shove which sent him sprawling to the ground, where he—infuriatingly—still made no effort to get up. *Does this mean you know you're guilty?* Brivari demanded. *Is that why you're not bothering to defend yourself?*

*It means I took a risk I felt worth taking,* Jaddo said levelly, *and that I knew you wouldn't agree, and would be angry when you discovered it no matter what the outcome. I know you won't kill me, and it's useless trying to talk to you until you've come to your senses, so go ahead; get it out of your system. I am at your disposal.*

Brivari turned away, unwilling to admit that Jaddo's refusal to fight back had put a damper on his fury, or at least the desire to throw him across the room. The cold, burning anger in the pit of his stomach stood little chance of ebbing any time soon.

*As if it isn't bad enough, we didn't just 'lose' these,* Brivari said bitterly, kneeling before the last of the hybrids, a tiny version of Rath which lay curled on its side, twitching and gasping. *These didn't die on their own like all the others; we sacrificed them.*

*Because we had to,* Jaddo said, climbing slowly to his feet. *We couldn't rescue them, and we couldn't let them return to Antar. We had no choice.*

*We wouldn't have had to make a choice if you'd left them where they were!* Brivari shouted.

*I couldn't do that,* Jaddo said firmly. *We can no longer afford to have all our assets in one place.*

* 'All' our assets?* Brivari echoed. * 'All'? Have you forgotten how few of these we have left?*

*Irrelevant,* Jaddo replied. *We only need one set. We can't have multiple kings, multiple queens, multiple....Vilandras. Even if we'd never lost a hybrid, we knew perfectly well that only one set would be allowed to live; the others, if they hadn't been lost, would have been disposed of.*

*Disposed of by choice,* Brivari said, *when it was clear they were no longer needed. We only had three sets left, Jaddo! Only three!*

*And we didn't need three!* Jaddo argued. *We needed to safeguard the ones we had against what could happen in the future, especially now that that future looks different than it did when we first hid them. Think, Brivari!* he urged when Brivari began to protest. *We had three good sets, hybrids which had stood the test of time and all the insults fate had thrown at them. But we only need one, and perhaps a back-up against emergencies; the third was superfluous. I'm sorry we lost it, but it was a chance I was willing to take. Now the king is safely where he's always been, and that back-up is elsewhere, its guardianship shared against the possibility that neither of us survives. I hope that day never comes, but if it does, someone needs to take up the cause. It shouldn't be allowed to die with us.*

*So we put the fate of the crown in the hands of the Argilian resistance?* Brivari said disdainfully. *God help Antar.*

*Do you seriously still doubt Michael Harris' loyalty after what we saw tonight?*

*So we have a dead ally,* Brivari said caustically. *What wonderful news. You seem to forget that neither his intentions nor his daughter's necessarily represent the intentions of everyone in the resistance. They could have spies, defectors, or members whose agendas run counter to the party line.*

*None of which means a thing while we still hold the hybrid bearing the mark,* Jaddo insisted. *That has not changed, nor will it.*

*Unless something happens to that hybrid,* Brivari said, *in which case the mark will migrate and the resistance will find themselves with a prize they could only dream of, until you came along.*

*What could possibly happen to it in the pod chamber?* Jaddo demanded. *And don't waste your time conjuring up meteor strikes, or wars, or any similar extremity which could render any precautions we've taken moot, not to mention lend credence to my claim that we're better off separating the hybrids so they can't all be taken out at once.*

*Then why couldn't we separate them ourselves?* Brivari demanded. *Why turn them over to the resistance?*

*Because they had the infrastructure in place to move them large distances quickly, and we did not,* Jaddo answered. *Several decoys were sent out, but only two operatives had hybrids. It was sheer luck that Nicholas found one of them.*

*You mean bad luck,* Brivari said sourly.

*Yes,* Jaddo agreed quietly. *It was bad luck. That happens. They are large and unwieldy, difficult to hide, difficult to move. As I said, a calculated risk.*

Brivari glanced down at the mess at this feet, that fury stirring again. *And a risk you calculated without me,* he said coldly.

*A risk I tried to make you see, to acknowledge,* Jaddo countered. *But you wouldn't. So I had to. For both of us.*

*How dare you?* Brivari whispered. *How dare you take my Ward without my consent?*

*I did not take your Ward or mine,* Jaddo said sharply. *Our Wards—the set with the mark—remain right where they've always been. What I took were the back-ups, the spares—*

*Our only spares!* Brivari retorted. *If we had dozens of sets, I would feel differently, but—*

*But we don't,* Jaddo finished. *Meaning the few we have are all the more precious, and we must work all the harder to guard them. And sometimes that means taking risks we might not otherwise take.*

*Risks we are supposed to agree on!* Brivari exclaimed. *Do you not see what you've done? Not only have we lost a set of hybrids, we've confirmed they are here. If Nicholas suspected that before, he's certain of it now.*

*And we can use that to our advantage,* Jaddo said, *because now he thinks they're on the move. No doubt he's preening himself for having flushed them out, but no matter; that's a conclusion that works in our favor because he will look elsewhere for them while the real king remains safely ignored. A few well-timed alien 'sightings', and he will leave this place and never look back.*

He paused, kneeling beside the still struggling Rath hybrid clinging stubbornly to life. *Whatever you think of me, do not think for one minute that I did this lightly. I do nothing lightly where our Wards are concerned, even though you and I disagree on what should be done....much the same way our Wards did.*

Jaddo lifted a hand, smoothed back the damp hair on the twitching hybrid. A moment later it collapsed, the pile of black dust mingling with the skin flakes and fluid, a soup of victims of the night's misfortune.

*It needed to be put out of its misery,* he whispered.




****************************************************




Dee gripped the car's steering wheel hard, her eyes glued to the road ahead. It was hard to see; there were no lights this far from town, nothing but her headlights which seemed to do precious little to cut the darkness. Courtney sat mutely beside her, a silhouette which reeked of that fishy smell that Dee remembered from Philip's birth, staring out the side window as if in a trance. She'd said nothing since getting in the car, and Dee had held a parallel silence, unsure of what to say. How did you console someone whose parent had committed suicide mere minutes before rescue arrived? She strongly suspected you couldn't, so she hadn't tried.

"How did you find me?" Courtney asked suddenly.

Dee shifted uncomfortably in her seat. It probably wasn't a good idea to admit that she'd outed her to Valenti in a vain attempt to obtain his help even if her presence at the sheriff's station at this hour had drawn the Warders' attention and enabled them to rescue her.

"I came to your room tonight, and a couple of men were tearing it apart. It didn't take a genius to figure out what happened."

"But how did you know I was at the barn?"

"Process of elimination. We checked Nicholas' rooming house, but no one was home, so we tried the next most likely place, a place he'd already taken a prisoner. And we got lucky."

"Yeah. Lucky," Courtney said tonelessly.

Ouch. "Courtney, I'm sorry," Dee said miserably. "I know that nothing I can say will make up for what you lost, but I promise you, we came as fast as we could—"

"I don't blame you," Courtney broke in. "We weren't expecting anyone to come for us, never mind Warders. Well....they didn't come for us. They came for the hybrids."

"About those," Dee said, "how did Nicholas find them?"

"He didn't 'find them', exactly. Jaddo gave them to us."

Dee almost swerved off the road, she was so surprised. " 'Gave'....he gave them to you? You mean.....willingly?"

"I saw one of them tonight," Courtney said, "in the trunk of a car. Just one pod; they're so big, that's all that would fit. He and my father...." She paused, her voice wobbling slightly. ".....they agreed that the resistance would take some of the hybrids to spread out the risk of their being found or something happening to the Warders."

"So Nicholas didn't find where they were hidden," Dee said, relaxing slightly when Courtney shook her head. She'd been terrified that Nicholas had somehow taken that information from her mind during their collision over Malik. "But what happened to them? Why were they leaking?"

"I imagine the Warders destroyed them to keep them from Nicholas," Courtney answered. "He was crowing about how Khivar was going to be so happy to have Vilandra back, and now that won't happen."

"But....why would the Warders have destroyed them? I would think they would have tried to save them."

"I don't see any way they could have gotten those four huge lumps out of that barn without being captured themselves," Courtney answered. "And it certainly wouldn't have been worth the effort."

Dee blinked. "It wouldn't?"

"Of course not. So what if a few hybrids died? They probably have hundreds of them, and they would have given us only a few. What died in there was the resistance."

" 'Died'?" Dee echoed, sidestepping the fact that there hadn't been "hundreds" of hybrids since the crash. "Why is it dead? I don't mean to trivialize your father's death, but he's only one man. Have they caught more of you?"

"They caught whoever had those pods," Courtney said, "so there's at least two down. But it's worse than that. My father wasn't just a resistance member, he was its leader. Nicholas will keep his exposure and death as quiet as he can for as long as he can in the hopes that other resistance members will slip up and reveal themselves. Which they probably will, and then they'll be executed. And we don't have hundreds of replacements."

"Then don't let that happen," Dee said firmly. "Reach in my right pocket."

"What?"

"My pocket," Dee repeated. "Reach in there."

Courtney hesitated a moment before digging her hand into Dee's pocket, her eyes widening when her hand closed on her trithium generator. "Do they know you have this?" she asked.

"No. I managed to get it without them seeing me."

"Nothing less than I would have expected from you," Courtney said with a wan smile, "but unfortunately it doesn't do me any good."

"Why not? Can't you contact someone with it?"

"Sure I can," Courtney said bitterly. "And that would be tracked, and whoever I contacted would be found, and that would just make things worse."

Damn. Dee was quiet for a moment, her mind whirling. There had to be a way to use that thing, and she was a quarter mile further down the road when it came to her.

"Is there some kind of signal, or code, or message you can send that resistance members would recognize? Nothing specific, but something that would make them suspicious, make them pay attention?"

"Sure, but like I said, it would be tracked. They'd find—"

"Not if you sent it to everyone," Dee interrupted. "Don't send it to just resistance members; send it to everyone, every single operative on this planet. Can you do that?"

"I.....yes," Courtney answered. "But—"

"Perfect!" Dee exclaimed. "Everyone will get the message, but only resistance members will know what it means. Nicholas can't finger anyone in particular because everyone will have received it."

"They can still pinpoint the source of the transmission," Courtney said. "And it won't take 'everyone' long to figure out what's going on."

"So what? Nicholas already knows the resistance is here, so you're not telling him anything he doesn't know already. We both know this is all going to blow up soon anyway, so why not take control of how that happens and use it to your advantage? This will at least tip off the rest of your people and buy them a chance to disappear. And we're in a car, so it doesn't matter if anyone finds out where you were when you sent it because you won't be there in a few minutes. And make sure they know it's from you. That'll give it much more weight."

"Why?" Courtney asked with a bitter chuckle. "I'm just a third level operative."

"Not any more. You're the leader of the resistance now."

Courtney's head swiveled around to stare at her. "Me? No way! Nathaniel, maybe, although he's unlikely to live much longer because he was my father's second, or—"

"No. It has to be you. Even if you're just a figurehead, although you certainly don't have to be."

"Dee, you're crazy!" Courtney protested. "I can't lead the resistance! I don't have the experience, or the training, or the—"

"Nonsense," Dee said firmly. "You've had more 'experience' here than any other operative, experiences that had you making your own decisions and defending them to your father when he objected. You're a large part of the reason the Warders were willing to turn hybrids over to the resistance, and you have no idea what an accomplishment that was. If you'd asked me before this, I would have said they'd never do that under any circumstances."

"And you'd be half right," Courtney said. "Because it was only Jaddo. Brivari didn't know."

Oh, my God, Dee thought heavily. She didn't even want to imagine that confrontation. "My point is that there's a void now, and you're the best person to step in and fill it," she pressed. "Even if you wind up turning over the reins later, you're the only one who can grab them now. And if you really don't want the resistance to die, you will."

Courtney was quiet for a couple of minutes before finally nodding. "All right. But they'll pick up on it quickly. We should stop so they don't see what direction we're moving in, and we'll need to get as far away from wherever I send it as fast as we possibly can."

"No problem," Dee said, pulling over to the side of the road, leaving the engine idling so they could leave quickly. "Do your thing."

Courtney's "thing" took less than a minute, a series of button presses which produced alien writing that hung in the air over the generator. "Done," she said as the writing evaporated. "Go. They're tracing it even as I speak."

Dee gunned the engine and sped off, wondering how fast she had to go to outrun a trace. This was the second time tonight that generator had been used to send a message. With any luck, the recipient of the first had followed her pointing finger.



***************************************************



Ruth Bruce's rooming house




"Thank you, Mrs. Bruce," Valenti said, tipping his hat. "I'm sorry to bother you at this late hour, but clocks don't count where there's a concern for safety."

"Oh, that's quite all right, sheriff," Mrs. Bruce answered. "I was up anyway—I do so love Mr. Paar's Tonight Show—and I confess it was alarming to find those men in Miss Harris' room. But according to them, she and her father are indeed moving out; they even paid the last of the rent for them. And as for the mess, well, I've never known men to be anything but messy. No offense," she added quickly.

"None taken," Valenti smiled. "You have a pleasant night."

The door closed; a moment later, the porch light went off. Returning to the cruiser, Valenti pulled away from the curb, and turned left when he reached Main Street.

"Uh....sir?" Hanson said. "Where are we going?"

"We're making one more stop," Valenti answered.

"What for?"

"A tip," Valenti said evasively, one hand on the pocket which held Dee's scrawled note.

"About what?" Hanson asked. "It's after midnight."

"Believe it or not, I actually know what time it is, Hanson," Valenti said dryly.

"Yes, I know that, sir," Hanson said patiently. "Did you also know that the feds are still following us?"

Valenti checked the rear view mirror. "Good."

" 'Good'? Why is that good?"

Not sure, Valenti admitted silently as he pulled up in front of yet another rooming house only a short ways from Mrs. Bruce's. But if there was one thing in life that could be counted on, it was that Dee Evans' tips could be trusted. He had no idea what he'd find here, but given what she'd claimed was the origin of those weird lights, it might be very interesting indeed.

His soft knock was answered by a bleary-eyed Alice Wentworth, proprietor of this boarding house and apparently not the late night television addict that Ruth Bruce was. "Sheriff?" she said apprehensively, clutching her robe protectively around her. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm sorry to bother you at this late hour, ma'am," Valenti said. "May we come in?"

"Of course," Mrs. Wentworth said uncertainly, ushering he and Hanson into her living room. "What can I do for you?"

"I'm interested in some of your boarders," Valenti said. "I have reason to believe one of them may be involved in certain illegal activities."

Whatever reaction Valenti had expected was definitely not the one he got. "It's that boy, isn't it?" Mrs. Wentworth demanded. "That dreadful boy! I just knew he'd get into trouble. Surprised it took so long."

"Boy?" Valenti echoed.

"Yes, that Nicholas! His father is wonderful, the very picture of courtesy, so I'm at a loss as to where that awful child came from. So rude, so mouthy, so....well, see for yourself," she added grimly, looking out her front window.

A moment later the front door opened and a group of people entered, led by, strangely enough, a child who looked no older than twelve or thirteen.

"That's him!" Mrs. Wentworth said triumphantly. "So, Nicholas—what have you done to bring the sheriff here at this hour?"



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


I'll post Chapter 91 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 90, 9/13

Post by Kathy W » Sun Sep 20, 2009 2:00 pm

Hello to everyone reading!
Michelle in Yonkers wrote:(And not even the poor, mewling podling will make me sympathetic to Jaddo, ever. :P ) ;)
:lol: I didn't expect it to. After all, it's mewling because of what he did.

I'm coming up with a blank on Jaddo and Atherton. He objected to Brivari's friendship with him (as always) and his deputizing him as a spy, but other than that, he didn't have a hand in that particular episode. (And in that case...perhaps annoyingly....he was right.) I suppose we could blame him for Brivari feeling the need to deputize Atherton to spy on Nicholas because Nicholas' presence was largely due to Audrey's death, although Atherton, being Atherton, would likely have tried what he tried eventually anyway, which means a handprint may very well have been left for the sniffing Lewis to find, and.....okay, now I have a headache. :mrgreen:



CHAPTER NINETY-ONE


November 3, 1959, 12:45 a.m.

Alice Wentworth's rooming house




Valenti looked back and forth from Mrs. Wentworth, the very picture of self-righteous indignation in her bathrobe and hairnet, to the small group who had just entered. There were four of them, three men and the boy, the latter of which fixed Mrs. Wentworth with a furious stare that no child of Valenti's acquaintance would have dared use on an adult. Surprisingly, it was the boy who spoke first.

"Nice to see you too, Mrs. Wentworth," he said, his uncracked voice heavy with sarcasm. "Aren't you up past your bedtime?"

"Watch your mouth, kid," Hanson said sharply.

"It'll be a cold day somewhere before that one does anything of the sort," Mrs. Wentworth said tartly.

"Easy, everyone," Valenti interjected, not missing the way the boy's eyes had flared at Hanson's reprimand. "Let's all be civil."

"I agree," the man standing directly behind the boy said smoothly. "I don't believe we've met," he continued, reaching around the boy to extend a hand. "Albert Greer. I'm Nicholas' uncle."

"Sheriff Valenti," Valenti replied, accepting the handshake. "And this is Deputy Hanson. And these are.....?" he continued, indicating the two men in the background.

"Friends of the family," Greer answered.

"Now that we've all made nice and shaken hands, maybe you could tell us what this is about," the boy said impatiently. "Past midnight is a bit late for meet and greets, isn't it?"

"It's also a bit late to be up on a school night," Valenti noted.

"My nephew is not usually out so late during the week," Greer said as the boy's eyes flashed again. "This is an exception, not the rule."

"Hmph," Mrs. Wentworth snorted. "Could have fooled me. Don't you believe a word of that, sheriff. This child spends the entire day holed up in his room and the entire night either going out or having people in."

"You mean he's not in school?" Valenti asked.

"Nicholas is home-schooled," Greer replied. "And my brother runs a business from his room upstairs that necessitates some unconventional hours."

"What kind of business?"

"Accounting," Greer answered.

"Since when do accountants keep 'unconventional hours'?" Hanson asked.

"Since many of his clients require them," Greer answered with a beady look at Hanson. "As you've noted, sheriff, the hour is late. I'd appreciate you coming to the point so I can get my nephew to bed."

"Right," Valenti said, noting that the boy's flammable glance had now been turned on his uncle. "I've received information which leads me to believe that your nephew may have engaged in some illegal activity."

"Such as?"

"Details would be restricted to the boy's legal guardians," Valenti answered. "I'd like to speak to his father, if I could please."

"I'm sorry, he's not here," Greer answered, his voice a shade colder.

"At this hour?"

"Like I said, this lot runs around at all hours," Mrs. Wentworth said darkly.

"Mr. Crawford is away on business," Greer said.

"What about the boy's mother?" Valenti asked.

"Deceased," Greer said flatly. "I'll be sure to tell his father that you called, although I imagine he'll be shocked at the notion of his son being in trouble with the law."

"He shouldn't be," Mrs. Wentworth declared. "Mind you, I like Mr. Crawford; he's a very nice man, although I can't for the life of me understand why he'd rent a separate room for a boy this age—"

"You live alone in your own room?" Valenti broke in, addressing Nicholas, who scowled at him.

"Why, yes," Mrs. Wentworth answered for him. "Nicholas has the room at the top of the stairs, and his father the one next to it."

"Is there something illegal about that?" Greer asked.

"Not as long as he's appropriately supervised," Valenti answered, "although it is mighty odd."

"And we all know there can't be anything illegal about being 'mighty odd' because otherwise, you wouldn't be sheriff," the boy deadpanned.

"Nicholas!" Greer exclaimed reprovingly. "My apologies, sheriff. It's late, and my nephew is tired. If you'll excuse us...."

"Of course," Valenti said. "Do be sure and tell Nicholas' father that I need to speak with him at his earliest convenience, and not just about the information I received. Given the circumstances, I'll need to see evidence that the boy is being educated according to state law and is properly supervised while his father keeps....'unconventional' hours."

"I'll be sure to tell him of your concerns," Greer answered, his tone downright frosty now. "Good night."

The four trooped up the stairs, with the boy trying to take the lead but being pushed back by his uncle. "Dreadful child," Mrs. Wentworth clucked. "I'm happy to rent to his father, but that one has an attitude problem."

"I noticed," Valenti murmured. "When did they move in?"

"About six weeks ago," Mrs. Wentworth answered.

"And do you have any idea when the boy's father will be back?"

"Oh, heavens, I have no idea," Mrs. Wentworth shrugged. "They come, they go, and it never makes any sense. As long as the rent's paid, I figure it's none of my business."

"Of course. Well....again, I'm sorry to bother you, Mrs. Wentworth. Good night."

It seemed chillier than usual when Valenti and Hanson stepped onto Mrs. Wentworth's front porch. "What the hell was that all about?" Hanson muttered. "Tell me you've got something on that snot-nosed kid."

"Not sure," Valenti admitted. "And it doesn't matter anyway. They're leaving."

"What? Why?"

"Because staying has become too risky," Valenti replied, nodding toward the car parked a short ways down the block, nearly invisible in the darkness.

"So the feds are after them too?" Hanson asked, bewildered. "What on earth for? I mean, that kid could use a good thrashing, but I can't see Lewis wasting his time on him."

"Did you notice when Mrs. Wentworth said they arrived?" Valenti asked.

"Six weeks ago," Hanson answered, "so, middle of September."

"Uh huh. Right when the weird lights started."

Hanson's eyes widened. "You think that little brat has something to do with the lights?"

"I can't prove it. I just have a hunch. And my hunches can be pretty darned good." Valenti opened the cruiser door and took one last look at the house. "I'll bet you good money this lot'll be gone tomorrow. Just wait and see."




******************************************************





6:45 a.m.

Proctor residence






"You're up," Anthony yawned, padding into the kitchen.

"In a manner of speaking," Dee answered. "I was never 'down'."

Anthony reached into the refrigerator for a bottle of milk. "You mean you didn't get any sleep? Even Courtney's conked out up there."

Lucky her, Dee thought as she huddled in a kitchen chair, the first gray light of dawn spilling through the window. Sleepy faces had met them when they'd returned to the house last night, along with a plethora of questions which had taken over an hour to answer. Afterwards Emily had insisted they all try and get some sleep, and Courtney had nodded off out of sheer exhaustion. But sleep had eluded Dee, who had spent most of the night watching Philip who, true to form, had slept through all the excitement. Her son's steady breathing, the rise and fall of his chest had often proved a sleep aid in the past. But not this time; here she was, hours later, wide awake, having given up on sleep and headed for the coffee pot. Sometimes it was easier to just give in.

"So," Anthony said, fishing cereal out of the cupboard, "did you ever even consider coming to get me, or were you bent on being Superwoman all by yourself?"

"I wasn't trying to be Superwoman. All I did was go to see Courtney. I didn't go there looking for trouble."

"As if that matters," Anthony said dryly. "Trouble seems to find you. Still, you could have called."

"Oh, sure, I could have just told those two aliens to hang back a minute while I called my husband. I'm sure they wouldn't have minded waiting."

"You were at the sheriff's station," Anthony reminded her, ignoring her sarcasm. "Last I knew, they had phones."

"They also had FBI agents, special alien-hunting FBI agents," Dee said. "Last I knew, it was a bad idea to stick out in front of them."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but running off with Warders constitutes 'sticking out', albeit to a different and more deadly group."

"What was I supposed to do, Anthony?" Dee demanded. "Courtney was in trouble, and there wasn't time. And besides, I stayed out of it. Most of it," she amended. "I was just the getaway car."

A chair scraped as Anthony sat down across the table from her. "I don't care what your exact roll was. What if something had gone wrong? I would have had no idea where you were or what had happened to you. You should have at least called."

Dee's eyes dropped. "I almost let them go alone."

"So why didn't you?"

Good question, Dee thought. She and Anthony had faced enemy aliens before, not to mention dodged bullets and crazy Army officers. But this time things were different; this time they had a son who could be orphaned by her tendency to dive right in. By all rights, she should have let the Warders tend to last night's business while she went home to her family.

"Because Courtney has no other friends here," she said quietly. "Because Malik is dead, and I feel like I should have done more to stop that. Because even when I was a kid, my being there made a difference. Because...." She paused, swallowing. "Because even if something happened to me, Philip would still have one parent left."

"Is that why you didn't call? So I couldn't join you?"

"It crossed my mind," Dee whispered.

Anthony sat back in his chair, his eyes closed, his cereal forgotten. The grandfather clock in the front hall bonged, filling in the silence.

"We can't keep doing this," he said finally. "Not now. Not with Philip."

"I know," Dee sighed. She took another sip of her coffee, grimacing when it was cold. "Remember when we ran from that alien at the Independence Day Festival? And when we rode our bikes to St. Brigit's in the middle of the night when Cavitt kidnapped Mama?"

"To find your father," Anthony added. "And we did. But you wouldn't stay in the rectory, so we wound up in the middle of an alien war."

"We were fearless back then," Dee murmured.

"No, you were fearless," Anthony corrected. "I wouldn't leave you alone, so I pretty much had to go along for the ride. Doesn't mean I wasn't scared shitless."

"So was I. But we went. Because we had to, even if it was for different reasons."

"And now we have to stop," Anthony said. "Because now we're the Warders, like your mother was when we were running into the fray. It was one thing to risk ourselves, but now we're risking our own child."

"Tell me about it," said a voice behind them. "I wish I'd figured that out sooner."

It was Courtney, disheveled and bleary-eyed, looking no better for her few hours of sleep. "I was hoping you'd be able to sleep longer," Dee said.

"Me too," Courtney said with feeling, looking longingly at Dee's cup. "Is that coffee?"

"Cold coffee," Dee corrected. "I'll warm up the pot."

"I'll do it," Anthony said. "Stay put."

"Want something to eat?" Dee offered. "Anthony hasn't touched his cereal."

Courtney shook her head. "No, thanks. I'm not hungry. And I hate these husks," she added, swiping a hand across her eyes. "These are the times I wish they hadn't made them so....authentic."

Dee gazed at Courtney's red, swollen eyes sympathetically. How bizarre that they'd actually made the husks able to shed tears. If she'd been the one doing the designing, that would have been one of first things she would have tried to remove.

"I'm really sorry about your father," Dee said gently.

"It hasn't sunk in yet," Courtney said dully. "I was awake for a good ten minutes before I even remembered."

"I was really little, but I remember when my Uncle James died," Dee said. "My father would pick up the phone to call him, and even start dialing before he remembered there wouldn't be anyone on the other end of the line."

"My father was always so worried for me," Courtney said. "I think that's why we clashed so much. It wasn't just that he didn't agree with me, it was that it was me on the line, his own child. And after all that, all his worry, all our arguments, I'm still here....and he's not."

"Which is the way he would have wanted it," Anthony noted, resuming his seat. "So what will the other resistance members do after they get your message? Is there some kind of contingency plan in place for this happening?"

"Of course," Courtney answered. "This was everyone's worst nightmare. In the event that we're discovered, we're supposed to head for the last known location of the head of the resistance and try to make contact."

"But....that would be here," Dee said. "Why would they come here? Nicholas is here."

"I know," Courtney said heavily. "The plan wasn't designed for this. We all thought it would be an individual, low-level operative who was discovered, not several at the same time and certainly not my father. And while discovering even a single resistance fighter would have tipped Nicholas off to our existence, he wouldn't have known the extent of it; he may have thought one just slipped in. His finding out that my father was the leader is one of the worst things that could have happened because it gives him an idea of just how far we've infiltrated his troops, and you can bet he'll respond accordingly. But it's the only plan we've got, so they'll come here anyway."

The phone rang, its jangle sounding even louder than the grandfather clock. "Who could that be at this hour?" Anthony wondered.

"Do you suppose they found me?" Dee asked worriedly. "From last night, I mean, when I went to your apartment?"

"It's possible," Courtney admitted.

"I'll get it," Anthony said.

Dee felt her heart quicken as her husband picked up the phone. "Hello?" He paused, listening for what seemed like forever before pulling the receiver away from his ear and putting his hand over the mouthpiece.

"Didn't you say you and your father used the phone to communicate with each other because your communicators could be traced?" he whispered.

"Yes," Courtney said warily. "Why?"

"It's a guy named 'Nathaniel', and he wants to know if you're here," Anthony answered.

Courtney stood up so quickly she almost knocked her chair over. "That's my father's second. He'd be the first one they'd be looking for, after me, of course."

"But how do we know it's really him?" Dee asked. "It could be anyone."

"I'll know if I answer it because the real Nathaniel will answer me the right way," Courtney said. "But that means whoever it is will know I'm here. And if it's not Nathaniel....." Her voice trailed off as Dee and Anthony exchanged glances, knowing what she meant.

If it wasn't Nathaniel, Courtney would have to run. And they would have to run too.




*****************************************************




Roswell Sheriff's Station




"There you are," Agent Lewis said irritably. "I was beginning to think you'd played hooky today."

"Sorry, sir," Agent Cates answered. "The sheriff may have instructed his staff to give us whatever we need, but that doesn't mean they're happy about it. They do what we ask, but they take their sweet time about it."

"Damn that Valenti," Lewis groused. "He's riding right on the line of what he can get away with while still not giving me enough to haul him in."

"Yes, he's exceptionally good at that," Cates replied.

Lewis' expression darkened. "Don't sound so admiring. That wasn't supposed to be a compliment."

But it was, Cates thought, suppressing a smile. Valenti was doing a deft dance around the entire Special Unit, giving them everything they wanted on the surface while surreptitiously making life as difficult for them as possible. Watching Lewis writhe, wanting desperately to carry out his threat but never having quite enough ammunition to pull it off, was sheer heaven.

"I thought you admired men like that," Cates said blandly. "Or so you've said."

"I admire them when they're not in my way," Lewis said sourly. "I do hope you're not turning into a Valenti worshipper like Owens."

"I don't worship anyone, sir," Cates replied, his throat tightening at the mention of Owens. "Not even you."

"Good," Lewis said. "You shouldn't. Religion is synonymous with dependency and gullibility, traits I hardly wish to encourage. Did you manage to learn anything in spite of our reluctant sheriff?"

"Nothing useful, sir. Nothing was found in the woods last night, and witnesses could not agree on what they saw in the sky, the only consensus being that it was some kind of light. Last night's late night visits do indeed appear to be concerning suspected vandalism to the property of a resident senior citizen. And headquarters hasn't had any luck identifying the body, not as 'James Anderson' or anyone else. Our latest silver handprint remains a John Doe. Or perhaps I should say 'former handprint'. The handprint had disappeared by the time we received the body."

"It always does," Lewis said. "But we have the photographs, which are in the Director's hands. He was very pleased."

"That a man died?"

"No, of course not that a man died," Lewis said impatiently. "He was pleased with this unit, that we'd managed to uncover further evidence of alien incursion."

"But we didn't uncover it, sir. Sheriff Valenti did."

Lewis waved a dismissive hand. "Semantics. Valenti was on the scene first, but we know what it means."

"With all due respect, sir....so does Valenti," Cates said softly.

"Nonsense," Lewis declared. "Oh, he thinks he knows a good deal, but....." He stopped, his eyes looking past Cates. "What is it?"

Del Bianco was in the doorway, ashen-faced. He closed the door behind him and fingered the piece of paper he was holding with hands that shook slightly.

"Christ, Del Bianco, what happened?" Cates demanded.

"For God's sake, spit it out, man!" Lewis added when Del Bianco didn't answer. "What could possibly leave you in this condition? Has something happened to the Director?"

Del Bianco shook his head. "No, sir. Not the Director. It's...." He hesitated, a look of anguish on his face. "It's your wife."

Lewis blinked. "Excuse me?"

Del Bianco took a deep breath. "Sir, I regret to inform you that Mrs. Lewis has passed away of an apparent heart attack. She was discovered this morning by her sister, who notified the Bureau." He paused. "I'm so sorry, sir."

Silence. No one moved or spoke; even time seemed to have been suspended. Finally Lewis sank into a chair, his eyes straight ahead, not looking at either of them.

"I see. And where is Daniel?"

"With the sister, sir. But he can't stay there. She's due to return home soon—"

"Yes, yes," Lewis broke in. "I...." He stopped, one hand to his mouth. "I knew she had a heart condition. I learned that while she was in the hospital. But I never thought...." He stopped again, closing his eyes. "It's a cold universe that takes both parents from a child in such short order. Now he'll know neither of them."

"No, sir," Del Bianco whispered.

At length, Lewis rose from his chair and straightened his tie. "Agents, I'm placing both of you in charge of the arrangements for the funeral. I want only the best for Helen; the finest mahogany casket, enough flowers to fill a cathedral, and a headstone fit for a queen. It's the least I can do."

"Yes, sir," Del Bianco said as Cates nodded wordlessly

"We'll be leaving Roswell," Lewis continued. "We've learned all we can here, and I have a child to attend to, among other things. I'll be relocating immediately after the funeral to the beta site."

"Right, sir," Del Bianco said.

"And now, if you'll excuse me.....I'd like a bit of time to myself."

"Of course, sir," Del Bianco said. "We understand."

The door had barely closed behind them when Cates gave a snort of derision. "A convincing performance, if one doesn't know him."

Del Bianco stared at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"So is this your doing?" Cates asked. "Are you the officially designated go-to guy whenever he wants to off someone, or does his own wife merit his personal attention?"

Del Bianco's face darkened. "What's the matter with you? A woman is dead, leaving an infant behind, and you're yakking up your ass!"

"And yet another convincing performance," Cates said dryly. "Although I could almost believe yours. You don't actually believe Helen Pierce died of a heart attack, do you?"

"Of course I believe that. Why wouldn't I?"

"Hmm....does the name 'Owens' ring a bell with you?" Cates asked innocently.

"That was different," Del Bianco insisted. "He was a threat."

"And Helen wasn't? I hear she wasn't too pleased with Lewis squirreling her away. Hell, just the fact that she was Daniel's mother would be enough—"

"I didn't kill her!" Del Bianco exclaimed, loud enough to turn a few nearby deputies' heads.

"Keep your voice down, Del Bianco," Cates said casually. "You're going to make people think you're a murderer. Oh, that's right...you are."

"I'm a patriot," Del Bianco retorted. "And so is Lewis. And he just lost his wife to entirely natural causes, so you might want to consider showing a little compassion—"

"Oh, spare me!" Cates scoffed. "Lewis is a doctor. He could kill her in ways no coroner would find, or just have Hoover pay off the coroner to look the other way, for that matter. That would be a lot less work. And what's this about a 'beta site'? Interesting that he was all set to relocate before his wife died of 'natural causes'."

"The beta site is a second residence that only Lewis and a few others know of," Del Bianco said. "It was designed as a safe house in case the family was threatened and needed to leave their primary residence quickly."

"While unbeknownst to Helen Pierce, the only real threat was the one she was living with," Cates muttered.

"Do you have any idea how many people would love to get their hands on little Daniel if they were to find out what he stood to inherit?" Del Bianco demanded. "His safety is paramount, which is why Lewis took so many precautions, including the beta site."

"Oh, of course," Cates deadpanned. "And, hey, it makes a nice place to hide after Daddy kills Mommy."

Del Bianco shook his head in disgust. "You know what your problem is?"

"Alas, no," Cates said with mock dismay. "Please, enlighten me. What's my problem?"

"Besides misplaced sarcasm, your problem is that you don't see the nuances," Del Bianco answered, "the shades of gray, the layers that go with an incredibly difficult job like ours. For you, it's just black or white, right or wrong. It's not that simple."

"Since we're sharing, allow me to enlighten you," Cates said sharply. "Your problem is that you hide behind this 'shades of gray' crap to justify murder. Your problem is that you see nuances where there aren't any. Your problem is that you don't realize that when you go far enough out on the edge, you cross the line behind which everything really is black or white, right or wrong, and it really is that simple. I don't see the layers, don't I? Oh, I see them, all right. You're layered just like a landfill, and you're turning into a little mini-Lewis right before my eyes."

Del Bianco's eyes narrowed. "I thought you were back on board, Cates. But you sure as hell don't sound like it."

Del Bianco stalked away, nearby deputies throwing them curious glances. That was close, Cates thought, responding with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. This was the first time his happy-agent façade had slipped, and with the worst possible person. He'd have to be more careful; it certainly wasn't worth losing his position over Helen Pierce, whose demise he certainly regretted but could have predicted long ago. Her fate had been sealed the very moment she'd let Lewis cross her threshold, and he mustn't let that get in the way of the most important business at hand, that of keeping Lewis from what he wanted. So far the Unit still hadn't made any headway in locating the serum, but Cates hadn't heard anything from Valenti. Which was curious, really, given Valenti's bloodhound nose for things like this.

Perhaps he should consider leaning on the good sheriff one more time.




**********************************************



Proctor residence




Dee shivered in the hallway of her parents' house, more from tension than her bare feet on the cold wood floor. Anthony still held the receiver, one hand over the mouthpiece, his expression guarded as he glanced toward the second floor where their son and her parents were fast asleep. Courtney, by contrast, wore the resigned look of one for whom crossroads of this nature were all too familiar.

"Okay—pros and cons," Dee said. Somehow even the worst situations seemed more manageable when one had a list. "You can tell if it's really Nathaniel. If it isn't Nathaniel, it's an enemy, and they'll know where you are, where we are. But if it really is Nathaniel, is there any way for Nicholas to trace the call?"

Courtney shook her head. "No. Your telephone system is much too primitive and decentralized for us to track with any degree of efficiency."

"Score one for 'primitive'," Anthony murmured.

"It's your decision," Courtney continued. "I've already put you in so much danger. If it really is Nathaniel, he'll find some other way to contact me."

Dee looked at Anthony, who shrugged. "If it is an enemy and they suspect we're allies, don't we want to know that sooner rather than later?" he said. "I mean, if they truly suspect she's here, even saying she's not won't be enough to throw them off."

"Right," Dee nodded, grateful once again for her husband's cool head in a crisis, a service he'd provided since childhood. "Answer it, Courtney."

"I'll know pretty much right away," Courtney whispered, taking the receiver, closing her eyes briefly before she answered.

"Nathaniel?"

Dee's heart was pounding so hard, she was surprised it wasn't audible as they waited for the result. A second later, Courtney heaved a huge sigh and leaned back against the wall. "It is you. Yes, I sent the message. Nathaniel....Papa's dead. He...." She paused, blinking rapidly as her husk's authenticity reasserted itself. "Nicholas was about to read his mind, and......and Papa decided to make sure he couldn't do that. Just like Malik did."

Dee averted her eyes as a single tear spilled down Courtney's cheek. "I'm okay," Courtney said quickly, sounding more convincing than she looked as she wiped her face. "I got away. But where are you? Did—New York? Why are you in New York?" She stopped, her eyes widening. "You did? That's great! Finally, a bit of good news! He got the other set of hybrids out of here without being discovered," she whispered to Dee and Anthony. "They're safe. Thank God," she added into the phone. "We lost the other set. Never mind how, I'll tell you when you get back here. Listen, you'll have to....."

Courtney stopped again, her eyes widening as before, but not with joy this time. "What?" she asked sharply. "I thought you just said they were safe." Another pause. Dee and Anthony waited on tenterhooks for a response, even Anthony looking worried this time.

"Are you serious?" Courtney demanded. "How can you not know where they are?"




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



I'll post Chapter 92 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

User avatar
Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
Posts: 690
Joined: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:06 am

Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 91, 9/20

Post by Kathy W » Sun Sep 27, 2009 4:37 pm

Hello and thank you to everyone reading!






CHAPTER NINETY-TWO


November 3, 1959, 2 p.m.

Roswell Sheriff's Station





"Sir?"

Valenti looked up. "What is it, Hanson? Do the feds want their cars vacuumed out? Or maybe they'd like us to turn down their beds and leave mints on their pillows?"

Hanson smiled faintly. "No, sir. I just wanted you to know you were right."

"Of course I was," Valenti said. "I'm the boss; I'm always right." He paused. "Are you going to tell me what I was right about, or do I have to guess?"

"The kid, sir. The brat at Mrs. Wentworth's boarding house? You said he'd be gone today, and you were right."

"Is that so?" Valenti murmured.

"Mrs. Wentworth said the kid cleared out early this morning with the uncle," Hanson went on. "She never did see the father again, but supposedly both of them are gone."

"Assuming that really was his father," Valenti remarked.

"Do you have reason to believe he wasn't?"

Valenti hesitated. "No," he admitted finally. "No, I don't. Just a hunch, I guess."

"And your hunches can be pretty darned good," Hanson smiled.

"Yeah," Valenti sighed. "For all the good they do me. So is Mrs. Wentworth happy they're gone?"

"Pretty much. She's none too happy that all her rooms are empty, but she's glad to see the kid go."

"Any trouble with Lewis?"

"No, sir. He demanded paperwork on both visits last night, and he was pretty pissed when it was all just about an old lady."

"I'm sure the life of a town sheriff doesn't hold a candle to that of an FBI agent," Valenti said dryly. "But if they insist on following me around, so be it. I'd hope they'd die of boredom, but I doubt I'm that lucky."

"Me neither, sir," Hanson said.

Several seconds went by, but Hanson didn't move. "Something else on your mind?" Valenti asked.

"Well....I wrote the report just like you said to, with us going to see the kid because of the tip we'd gotten about Mrs. Bruce. But I'm still not sure how you got that tip, or why you bothered to follow up on it when Mrs. Bruce said everything was fine. Or why you wanted the feds to follow us. Or how you knew the kid would be gone today. I'm just having a little trouble connecting all the dots."

"Chalk it up to a pile of hunches," Valenti replied. "You can't always connect the dots with hunches; that's part of what makes them hunches. Does that make any sense?"

Hanson blinked. "Sort of."

That's the best I can do, Valenti thought after Hanson left. Truth be told, he was having his own trouble connecting the dots as he was still thrashing over the Evans girl's visit last night, still cursing whatever fate had opened her famously locked lips at the precise moment when responding would mean giving Lewis what he wanted. His own attempts at dot-connecting had left him with the impression that the mouthy kid and his "relatives" were aliens who had something to do with the weird lights plaguing the town for the past several weeks, lights Dee had claimed were meant to reveal other aliens. It was all fantastic, and much of it made no sense. For example, why would one—and only one—of the aliens look like a boy? What possible advantage could there be in posing as a child? Or perhaps those aliens genuinely looked like humans, and that one really was a child? But then where were the long-fingered hands like the imprint he'd seen in the dirt back in the forties? Were those the "other" aliens, the ones boy-alien and his cronies were chasing? And why the hell did they have to chase them in his town? Good questions, all, and likely to stay that way. He was willing to bet good money that Dee Evans wouldn't be anywhere near as forthcoming in the future as she'd been last night, the crisis which had induced her to come to him probably over by now. And what a crisis it must have been, he thought ruefully. Normally wild horses couldn't have chased her in here to spill what she'd spilled last night, and the odds of anything similar happening in the future were pretty slim. That had likely been his one chance....and he'd had to let it go. That still smarted like hell.

A knock sounded on the door. "Sir?" Hanson's voice called. "Mrs. Valenti is on line two."

And there's something else that smarts like hell, Valenti thought, eyeing the phone like it was a grenade missing its pin. He'd gotten home so late last night that Andi had already been asleep; he'd crawled into a cold bed beside her, and she hadn't come over to join him. This morning he'd left before she was up, leaving a note for Jimmy at his place on the kitchen table, but nothing for his wife. He was just too angry, angry that she didn't trust him, that she resented every little thing about his job, that she seemed to be moving closer and closer to thinking him some sort of UFO nut when she should know better. Hell, even his kid knew better. Shouldn't his wife?

Blink-blink. The line two button flashed accusingly at him, scolding him for not picking up. With a sigh, Valenti grabbed the receiver. Maybe she'd calmed down. Maybe she'd given it some thought. Maybe she was just taking awhile to come around.

"Andi?" he said cautiously.

Maybe I should just flap my arms and fly to the moon, he sighed inwardly as she immediately launched into a harangue about how late he'd gotten home last night and how early he'd left this morning. Not a word about why, or was anything wrong, or any concern for him, or his job, or the town, or anything but herself. He'd never thought he'd see the day when Andi would become so selfish, so self-centered that no one else mattered.

"Is this a bad time?"

Valenti's head jerked up; he'd been so absorbed in the abuse that he hadn't heard his office door open. "I'll have to call you back," he said flatly into the phone, hanging up as yet another verbal torrent roared over Ma Bell's lines.

"I could have waited," Agent Cates said.

"You should've waited," Valenti replied, keeping his relief at having postponed yet another argument to himself. "You're taking an awful risk talking to me now."

"On the contrary, this is probably the least risky meeting we've had," Cates answered. "This is your station, I'm assigned here....it's easy." He paused, settling into a chair. "So....what's the word?"

"The word is nothing," Valenti said. "I haven't been able to find a thing."

"Nothing?" Cates echoed in dismay. "But you must have found something, seen something, heard something that tripped a switch."

"I did. Just nothing that actually produced any light."

"What?" Cates asked eagerly. "I don't care how trivial you think it is, I want to hear it."

"Okay.....his lawyer. Pierce was more than just a client; they were friends. One of the paintings in his office bears a touching note on the back."

Cates blinked. "That's it? Six weeks of work, and that's all you've got?"

"Agent, if this were easy, you wouldn't have called me in on it," Valenti said crossly.

"But his lawyer?" Cates said incredulously. "He was there when the letter was read, and Lewis said he didn't even blink."

"Maybe he's a good liar," Valenti suggested. "He is a lawyer, after all. Or maybe Lewis isn't a good liar. He does have a God complex, after all."

"Honestly, sheriff, don't you think we've already checked the lawyer out six ways to Sunday? He was one of the first people we thought of and one of the first we cleared. If—"

"Look," Valenti interrupted, "Pierce was extremely paranoid, and his circle was extremely small. Since he intended his son to have this magic whatever, he wouldn't have left it with anyone who could use it themselves, like the military or that hospital he was working for, because they wouldn't have any incentive to pass it on. He needed someone he trusted implicitly who wouldn't steal the prize for himself, and the lawyer is the only person I can find who even remotely fits that bill."

"Then what happened?" Cates demanded. "You said your switch didn't work, which means you've cleared the lawyer too."

"You asked me if I had any leads, and that was my one lead. And I still say it was a good one, even if it didn't pan out."

"So....what, then? Where do we go from here?"

Valenti leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "Beats me."

Silence. Valenti didn't need to see in order to feel Cates' extreme disappointment; it hung in the air like fog, a clinging damp impossible to avoid. Sorry to have tarnished my glowing image, he thought sourly. He failed at very little, and this one hurt. Depriving Lewis of what he wanted would have been sweet indeed.

"Helen Pierce is dead."

Valenti's eyes flew open. "What?"

"She's dead," Cates repeated. "She died last night."

"Of what?"

"An apparent heart attack. And if you believe that, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell you."

"Lewis," Valenti muttered.

"Who else?" Cates asked. "The good Mrs. Pierce was objecting to the secluded life Lewis demanded she lead, to the point of not divulging their address to anyone, including her family. Word is she made the mistake of contacting her family against his wishes. Lewis is absolutely paranoid about safeguarding little Daniel, and he wasn't about to let his mother get in the way."

"Will there be an autopsy?" Valenti demanded. "Surely they'll—"

"Find nothing," Cates said. "Lewis is a doctor; do you really think he'd leave a trail? No, they won't trace this back to him. And even if they did, I'm not sure anyone would do anything about it." He paused. "This is who we're up against, sheriff, the man who would have ruined you and your family, who murdered Agent Owens and just murdered again. Who's next? Think about that. It might spur you to try harder. I know it works that way for me."

"If you want to 'spur me' on, you might try telling me what I'm looking for," Valenti said. "You never have, you know. You only told me it was some kind of serum, not what it did. Is it really that valuable, or is this all just a wild goose chase?"

Cates stared at his hands for a moment. "What if," he said slowly, "you had a potential enemy who was much more powerful than you? And what if you had the means to remove their advantages, to even the playing field, to....control them?"

"So....Pierce's inheritance has something to do with controlling aliens?"

"So I'm told."

"Then tell me something else, agent," Valenti said. "If you're so convinced we have enemies, why are you standing on your head and singing the 'Star Spangled Banner' backwards in an effort to block something that would give us the upper hand?"

"Because Lewis wants it," Cates said flatly. "Which will tell you who I find the greater enemy." He rose from his chair. "I have to be going. Lots of things to do, you know: Calling hours, the funeral, flowers. All the things normal people do when a loved one dies. Only this one wasn't loved, and Lewis isn't normal. You should have heard him when he told us she was dead. I thought about what he said afterwards, and I realized that every single thing he'd said was true. He didn't lie; he just didn't tell us the truth. Perhaps that's how he justifies it, by telling himself that a lie of omission isn't really a lie, that as long as his words are technically correct, he's okay, even if he knows everyone's taking them some other way than he means them. I suppose even monsters occasionally feel the need to engage in self-justification." He paused. "Think about what I said."

Cates let himself out, leaving Valenti staring into space. It was disturbing, really, how little this news affected him. Had he grown so accustomed to people like Lewis and Cavitt that their atrocities no longer resonated? Or perhaps it was a perverse sort of sympathy for Pierce's widow that she no longer had to go through life with a man who was only using her and her child? And what would happen to that child now that little Daniel had effectively been rendered an orphan? Well, not legally, of course; legally, he had a father, such as he was. What kind of person would the boy grow up to be with Lewis as the guiding force in his life? Maybe not who Lewis thinks he'll be, Valenti thought, chuckling suddenly. If Pierce's offspring wound up molded in either his own father's or Lewis' image, he'd never help Lewis; he'd emerge a ruthless bastard who would keep his much sought after inheritance to himself and use it to further his own ends, not to mention being an expert at the "lie of omission" after having been schooled by the best......

" I realized that every single thing he'd said was true. He didn't lie; he just didn't tell us the truth...."

Valenti sat bolt upright in his chair as the last piece of the puzzle suddenly snapped into place. Of course! Why hadn't he seen it? So that's why he'd felt so uneasy when he'd walked away, like he was missing something, something important. It had been right in front of him the whole time.

Another knock. "Sir?" Hanson said, poking his head in the door. "Mrs. Valenti is on line two again. She sounds....."

"Pissed?" Valenti suggested. "Riled? Madder than hell? Ready to blow?"

"All of the above," Hanson admitted.

"Well, she'll just have to blow," Valenti said, reaching for his hat. "Tell her I'll see her later tonight. I'm out for the rest of the day."

"Out where, sir?"

"To pay a call," Valenti answered, "to a really good liar who wasn't really lying."




******************************************************



6 p.m.

Proctor residence





"You haven't eaten anything," Emily said, looking at Courtney's plate.

"I know," Courtney said apologetically. "I'm sorry."

"You need to eat, sweetheart. I know you're worried, but Nathaniel was quite clear that he wasn't comfortable talking over the phone. You'll just have to wait until he gets here to find out what happened, so you may as well eat."

"I will," Courtney promised. "I'm....just not hungry."

And I may never be again, she added silently. If anyone had asked her before all this had happened how she thought it would have felt to lose her father, she would have conjured up a laundry list of feelings, all bad. How odd, then, that the principal feeling she was experiencing at the moment wasn't a feeling at all, but the absence of feeling. She wasn't hungry, wasn't tired, wasn't cold, wasn't sad, wasn't....anything.

Not quite, she amended. She felt empty, drained of whatever had fueled her in the past. She felt detached, as though life were swirling around with her merely a spectator, and an impotent one at that. She felt numb, as though someone could touch her and she wouldn't even feel it. How very odd that feeling nothing could feel so awful.

"When was the last time you had something to eat?" Emily pressed, pulling her back to the present.

"I don't know. Sometime yesterday."

" 'Sometime'?" Emily repeated. "Probably last night at dinner time, right? You should eat something."

Courtney felt the detachment retreat as impatience took its place. Leave it to Emily to get a reaction out of her. "I said I'm not hungry," Courtney insisted. "Can't we just leave it at that?"

Emily sat down beside her. "Of course you're not," she said gently. "You just lost your father. But believe me when I say that starving yourself is not going to bring him back. It'll just make you more miserable, not to mention tired and weak at a time when you can afford to be neither. And why voluntarily make yourself more miserable? Aren't you miserable enough already?" She reached over, gave the plate a gentle shove. "Now, eat. I don't want your father to come back and haunt me because I didn't feed you."

Courtney couldn't resist a wan smile at the notion of her father as a scolding ghost, and yet another at the look David Proctor gave her that seemed to say, "Give up. You won't win this one." No, she probably wouldn't, and as the Proctors had been so good to her, she pulled the plate toward her with a resigned sigh that put a smile on Emily's face.

But only until the knock sounded on the front door. Smiles instantly vanished and nerves raced to the edge, none more so than Courtney's, who was now longing for that oblivion she'd been cursing only moments ago. Dee and Anthony appeared at the top of the stairs, looking worried, as they had every right to be.

"It's a man," Emily reported after peeking through the side window. "I've never seen him before. Courtney, come look."

Did they find me? Courtney thought, her heart in her throat as she slipped in behind Emily. Or was it Nathaniel? He'd planned to make his way back here, but they both knew the odds of him being caught. As her father's second, he would be more hunted than she was.

"It's him," she breathed, leaning against the window in relief as David opened the front door.

"Inside, quickly," he urged.

Nathaniel was looking much the worse for wear, with a good deal more facial hair than she'd ever seen on him and clothes that smelled like they needed a good wash. "God, you look awful," Courtney whispered, pushing back the hood he was wearing to reveal bloodshot eyes. "Are you all right?"

"I'm okay," he answered, sounding better than he looked. "I'm just tired; I couldn't afford to sleep on the way back because I knew they'd be looking for me." He paused, dropping his eyes. "I'm sorry about your father, Courtney."

She nodded mutely, not trusting her voice. "Did you see anyone on the way in?"

"I dodged a few of Nicholas' operatives, although it seems Nicholas himself has left town. Something about him thinking the sheriff was on to him."

Courtney glanced at Dee, who smiled faintly. "And I ran into a couple of our own people who haven't been discovered yet," Nathaniel continued. "According to them, almost all of the resistance is pulling up stakes and heading here to decide how to proceed. Most weren't willing to risk staying put."

"Of course they weren't," Courtney murmured. Having the resistance discovered in any way would have been huge, but having their leader discovered, and discovered so close to Nicholas, was even worse.

"You must be starving," Emily said. "Would you like something to eat?"

"I'd love that," Nathaniel answered. "I haven't eaten since yesterday."

"But what about the pods?" Dee added. "You said you didn't know where they are, but you wouldn't say why."

"People," Emily said firmly, "let the man eat. What happened, happened, and it will still have happened when he's done. It can wait."

So can I, Courtney thought, nursing a huge feeling of relief as Emily bustled Nathaniel into the kitchen and set a plate of food in front of him, realizing that part of the detachment she'd been feeling was sheer terror at the notion that, without him, she would be leading the resistance. Dee's suggestion that she do just exactly that had been preposterous, of course, but if something had happened to Nathaniel, if he hadn't made it back, she would have had to seriously consider it even though the very idea was insane, insane enough to make her father roll in his grave if he'd had one.

It turned out they didn't have long to wait. Nathaniel ate like a starving man, cleaning his plate so quickly she doubted he'd actually chewed anything. Even a request for seconds didn't set him back by much despite Dee's look of impatience. A mere fifteen minutes later he had slowed somewhat, alternating between a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee at enough of a leisurely pace to allow conversation if one wasn't too particular about someone talking with his mouth full.

"I got the pods to Mitchell without any problems," he began. "That's an Air Force base on Long Island. We have a resistance operative in the military who got us papers to have cargo shipped there."

"You've infiltrated the military?" David murmured. "Cavitt's worst nightmare."

"May he rot in hell," Emily said darkly. "Go on."

"I met up with another resistance member who goes by the name of Laura," Nathaniel continued. " Michael had picked out a hiding place...." He paused as Courtney's eyes glazed over at the mention of her father ".....and Laura and I used a truck to ferry the pods to a subway station, which was the best way to reach the target location. We were using a maintenance car specifically designed for cargo, and after I helped her load them, we split up. I went on ahead to check out the location, and she was supposed to meet me there. But she never showed."

"Why not?" Dee asked.

"I'm not sure," Nathaniel answered. "I waited a long time for her, and when she didn't show, I went back to her apartment. She called a couple of hours later and said something had happened, and she'd had to offload the pods somewhere else. She wouldn't say what happened or where they were. She said she'd be back in another hour or so, and we'd decide what to do then."

Nathaniel stopped, his fork hovering over his pie. "And then what?" Dee pressed. "Did she show up?'

"Yeah," he said, his voice growing husky. "Unfortunately, I wasn't there. I should have been. I should have waited for her, but...I didn't. I'd heard enough in the background of her phone call that I thought I knew where she was, and I went to get her. I didn't find her, and while I was out, Courtney's signal came through. I knew that had to be very bad news, and I went back to the apartment right away. But Laura was already there. We must have crossed paths and not even realized it."

"She was there?" Dee said, puzzled. "So why didn't she tell you where the pods were?"

"Because she was dead," Courtney said tonelessly.

Dee's eyes widened as Nathaniel nodded. "She must have panicked and tried to contact Michael. Nicholas knew about Michael, of course, and was honing in on anyone who tried to contact him.....and he used the communicator to kill her. There were skin flakes all over the place."

"Like he killed the FBI agent," Anthony said.

"How did you know about this?" Dee asked Courtney.

"I didn't; I just knew it was a possibility," Courtney said quietly. "You had a good idea about contacting everyone, but one of the risks was that someone would do exactly what Laura did. No one would have thought my father would have been the one exposed, so she probably thought it was safe to contact him under some pretense or other."

"The problem is she took what she knew with her," Nathaniel said. "She was on the subway at the time, but it's huge, and there's a raft of tunnels down there, including old subway lines that have been shut down, lines that were never completed, access tunnels, maintenance tunnels, sewers, you name it."

"Damn," David muttered.

"We'll start looking for them as soon as it's safe," Nathaniel promised. "We'll have to wait a while because Nicholas will trace the communicator signal and send operatives up there. But New York City's a big place, and he won't know where to start looking. We'll find them."

"What could have happened to make her bail like that?" Anthony wondered.

"My guess? She saw, or thought she saw, one of Nicholas' operatives," Nathaniel answered. "She was really jumpy when I got there, kept seeing other operatives everywhere when it was only humans who resembled operatives. I think the fact that we actually had hybrids really freaked her out, and she started getting paranoid. If she thought someone was following her, she would have jumped ship."

"But they made it, right?" Dee said. "Did she specifically say the pods were safe?"

"Yes," Nathaniel nodded. "Not only safe, but in a better hiding place, in her opinion. She thought we might choose to leave them there. So wherever they are, they should be okay."

"One bit of good news," Anthony said.

"To go with the bad news," Nathaniel said heavily, staring at his half eaten pie.

"What bad news?" a voice said behind them.

Courtney's heart sank when she saw Jaddo standing in the doorway to the kitchen, and it was clear from the expressions on everyone else's faces that hers wasn't the only one. "Well?" he demanded when no one said anything. "Have I earned the courtesy of a report, or is the resistance I have so recently made an alliance with now withholding information?"

"Of course not," Courtney said promptly. "Go on in the living room. We'll be right in."

Courtney looked at Nathaniel, who stared at his pie, then at David, who was giving her a sympathetic look. "I'll tell him," Nathaniel said finally. "It's my fault she was alone when it happened."

"No, I'll tell him," David said. "You're exhausted."

"Let David," Emily urged. "He's done this before—"

A chair scraped, cutting off the rest of that sentence. Almost against her will, Courtney felt herself stand up, saw everyone's eyes swivel her way.

"I'll tell him."

"You don't have to," Nathaniel said gently. "I—"

"Yes, I do," Courtney said.

"But I'm the senior operative," Nathaniel objected. "As Michael's second—"

"You would normally outrank me," Courtney finished. "I know. But Jaddo doesn't know you, and it was my father who made the alliance, one I struggled for months to make happen. So it should be me who reports the results. I'll be okay," she assured everyone as they all gazed her at her with varying degrees of skepticism. "And....." She paused, the words sticking in her throat. "It's my responsibility. Even if I don't want it to be."

"Wait," Nathaniel urged. "I—"

"No," Courtney said firmly. "I'm doing this."

"Fine, but there's something you should know," Nathaniel said. "Relocating a few hybrids was only part of the agreement your father made with Jaddo."

Courtney blinked. "So....what was the other part?"





****************************************************




Copper Summit, Arizona




"Have I made myself clear?"

"Completely," Nicholas said stiffly.

"Do you have anything further to report? Any more lost ships, escaped prisoners, dead hybrids, enemy infiltrators, or other sundry huge mistakes?"

"No, sir," Nicholas answered in a strangled tone, only a heartbeat away from sheer rage.

"Then don't contact me again until you have news I want to hear."

Nicholas felt something snap inside as the hologram of Khivar's face disappeared from over the communicator, the multiple humiliations of the past several days finally taking their toll. With a roar of rage he flung out an arm and swept everything off the table, sending papers, equipment, tools, and the communicator flying with a crash that rattled the walls in the poorly constructed human dwelling he would now be forced to call "home" for a very long time to come. Assuming he didn't die first, that is, which seemed to be what his commander wanted.

"Sir?"

Nicholas whirled around to find Greer standing in the doorway. "How long have you been there?" he demanded.

"I've only just arrived," Greer answered.

Liar, Nicholas thought sourly. Everyone was lying to him, tiptoeing around him, afraid he would burst. Under normal circumstances he'd be delighted to be the focus of so much fear; unfortunately these weren't normal circumstances.

"I take it your conversation did not go well?" Greer ventured.

"Oh, it was just peachy," Nicholas said sarcastically. "First those Covari bastards hijack the ship and destroy our next crop of husks, then they send it home with a warm and fuzzy message which undermines everything Khivar has done for the past ten years. Then we capture one of them only to have it commit hari-kari before I can learn anything useful from it. Then I discover an arm of the resistance right under my nose. Then I actually acquire a set of hybrids, only to have the bastards show up again—again—and snatch all of it right out from under me. And to top it off, you have me running from Roswell like a dog with his tail between his legs. Did I leave anything out?"

"Leaving was necessary," Greer said. "The sheriff suspected us, and the federal enforcers were right behind him. We don't have the luxury of being able to change our faces, so we can't afford the exposure, or the—"

"Yes, yes, I've heard all the arguments," Nicholas said impatiently. "Michael's last act of defiance must have been tipping them off. I hope he rots in hell."

"Unless it was Courtney," Greer noted, "who is still at large."

"What about her communicator signal?"

"That was traced to the 'middle of nowhere', as the humans would say," Greer replied. "She's long gone now."

"And that human who interrupted you at her apartment?"

"Is apparently exactly who she says she is," Greer answered. "She lived across the hall from Courtney this summer, and she is indeed visiting her family, who live in a small town north of Roswell. They are ordinary humans of no importance. There is no reason a Royal Warder would pay them any mind."

"So she got away," Nicholas said sullenly. "She and....." He stopped, having not yet asked the most important question. "How many?"

Greer's eyes fell. "We caught a few as they tried to flee, the one's who panicked or were just unlucky—"

"How many?" Nicholas interrupted sharply. "How many total? Come on—out with it!" he ordered when Greer continued to hesitate. "How many of my troops were traitors?"

"Current estimates," Greer said slowly, "hover around thirty-five."

Nicholas blinked. "Thirty-five?" he echoed in disbelief. "Thirty-five? That's nearly twenty percent of our forces!"

"Attempting an exact figure may be premature," Greer said. "Obviously those who've gone missing are being counted as resistance, but it's not that simple."

"No, it isn't," Nicholas said angrily. "It's quite possible some of them kept their mouths shut and stayed behind to act as spies. Even probable."

"Yes," Greer agreed. "Quite. And given that she blanketed everyone with her message, it's impossible to tell who those would be unless they do something to give themselves away. We should be on high alert for sabotage."

"Clever little brat," Nicholas said bitterly. "How the hell did I get Earthside with so many infiltrators? I was so careful. I checked and re-checked everything I could think of."

"And your third was the leader of the resistance," Greer reminded him, "with the highest level of access after me. You never expected that."

"Damned right I didn't," Nicholas muttered. "He must have been planning this for years, working his way up until he was almost in my lap. And then Courtney, offering to go to Roswell.....Jesus, I can't believe I fell for that!"

"I seriously doubt a human deity will be of much assistance," Greer said dryly, "but hindsight will. Now that we know the resistance is here and who they've been hiding behind, we can mount an effective defense against them as we move forward."

"Forward?" Nicholas repeated with a snort. "We've just been set so far back, it'll take us years before we're anything close to 'forward' again."

"Not necessarily. We rattled the Warders badly enough that they risked moving the hybrids. Given how many they likely produced, it's quite possible some are still on the move. We may yet capture more if we keep our eyes open, and once more operatives arrive, we will have more eyes than ever."

Nicholas sighed and sank into a chair. "More eyes would be nice, wouldn't they? Even logical, under the circumstances. Unfortunately Khivar doesn't think so."

"Give him time, sir," Greer said gently. "We came closer than we've ever been, held more then we've ever held. His disappointment is understandable—"

" 'Disappointment'?" Nicholas echoed. "Oh, he's way past 'disappointment'. And he's already rendered a verdict."

"What does that mean?" a sharp voice said behind them.

It was Ida, hovering in the doorway with Vanessa behind her. "What do you mean, he's rendered a 'verdict'?" Ida demanded. "Don't tell me he blames you for what those monsters did! That wasn't your fault. You did the best you could under the circumstances. My baby always does," she added, running a hand through his husk's hair.

"I'm afraid Khivar doesn't agree," Nicholas said, resisting the urge to pull away. Much as he hated the human habits his mother had picked up, one of the good things to come out of this mess—perhaps the only good thing—was his mother's sympathy. Gone was the scolding and second-guessing, replaced by commiseration and protests that her "baby" was being treated poorly. Even Vanessa was getting a pass. It may not last, but he was certainly going to enjoy this reprieve from maternal harangues just as long as it lasted.

"What did he say?" Vanessa asked worriedly. "When can we expect supplies and reinforcements?"

Nicholas looked from one expectant face to another. "We can't," he said finally. "Khivar has refused to send us anything. No extra troops, no ships, no equipment for growing husks. Nothing."

There was a moment of utter silence before everyone started talking at once.

"How does he expect us to grow new husks with Earth's ancient technology?" Greer asked, bewildered.

"He has to send more operatives!" Vanessa declared. "So many were actually resistance, so now we have them to fight as well!"

"How dare he do that to my baby?" Ida demanded. "Blaming you for Covari monsters and punishing all of us! Does he want his precious princess back, or doesn't he?"

"That's part of the problem, Mom," Nicholas said. "He had his precious princess back, for a few hours, anyway. And then I lost her."

"You mean they killed her!" Ida corrected. "Murdered their own Wards!"

"It was nothing to them," Vanessa said bitterly. "They probably have dozens of Vilandras. What a horrible thought," she added, looking vaguely ill. "One of her was bad enough."

"However we see it, according to Khivar, we had the Royal Four, and then we lost them," Nicholas said. "We were right on top of both Warders and hybrids, and now they're gone; we scared them away. And now we have no idea where they are or where they're going. We're right back where we started, shooting in the dark."

"No, we're worse off than when we started," Vanessa argued. "We've lost several dozen operatives, lost our ship, lost our next harvest. That leaves us with no way to get home, diminished numbers, possible spies, no more trithium for trithium generators, and no new husks. How long do these last?" she added, scratching nervously at her neck. "I never paid much attention before because I never thought I'd have to."

"Approximately fifty Earth years," Ida answered, swatting her hand away. "And don't scratch. That's the only husk you'll have for a while."

"A very long while," Greer agreed. "We have some equipment here in Copper Summit, but not nearly enough to attempt a full crop. We'll have to scrounge for the materials we need, perhaps even invent some. I'm not sure they exist on Earth."

"Which means we all need to be careful," Nicholas reminded them. "Blow a husk, it's gone. Break a generator, it's gone. What we have now is all we have."

"I don't understand," Greer insisted. "Handicapping us is not a good way for Khivar to get what he wants. We need more troops and more equipment, and we need it now like never before."

"Khivar disagrees," Nicholas said darkly. "What he feels we need most is incentive. And so he's provided us with an approximate date of death unless we either find the Royal Four or find a way to replace our husks before they die. I'd call that 'incentive', wouldn't you?" He rose from his chair. "So.....forward, as you said. Set operatives to work on how to cultivate a new crop of husks. And find more human subjects for our experiments with neurotransmitters. We know they work, and enhancing the troops we have left should be a priority, not to mention a way to get back in Khivar's good graces if what we learn can be transferred to our race as a whole."

"Yes, sir," Greer nodded.

"We have to find those hybrids," Nicholas continued. "Even one of them could be our ticket off this rock. Start with the New York City area where that traitor's signal was traced. And there's something else here that could save our skins, no pun intended. The Warders took the Granolith with them when they ran, probably as a way home for the Royal Four. It's here somewhere, and if we find it, we've got a ride no matter what happens."

"And what if we can't?" Vanessa asked desperately. "What if we can't grow new husks, or find the hybrids, or find the Granolith? We'll die here! We'll all die here!"

"I won't die here," Nicholas declared angrily. "Throw in the towel if you want, but not me. No matter how hard our fearless leader makes it, no matter what it takes, I'm going home."





****************************************************




Office of Robert Angelone, Attorney at Law

DeBaca County





The sound of a drawer closing floated from the office, followed by the click of a key turning in a desk drawer lock and the shuffling noises of papers being sorted, tidied, hefted. A few minutes later Pierce's attorney stepped out of his office, locking the door behind him. Pocketing the key ring, he turned around.....and almost dropped the papers.

"Sheriff!" he exclaimed. "You startled me. When did you get here?"

"A few minutes ago," Valenti answered from his seat on the couch in Angelone's waiting room. "I told your secretary we had an after hours engagement. She just left."

"And do we have an....'after hours engagement'? I don't recall seeing anything on my calendar."

"You wouldn't have. It's an impromptu sort of thing."

"About?"

"About how you almost had me, Mr. Angelone. No small feat, that, because I'm pretty good at sniffing out liars. But then, you weren't lying....were you?"

Angelone removed his glasses. "Sheriff, I'm quite certain I don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about."

"Bullshit," Valenti said blandly. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Angelone sighed impatiently. "Is this about Pierce's legacy to his son? We already discussed that. I told you—"

"You told me that you had no idea what Pierce would have left his son other than that listed in the will. You told me that you don't know where his child is. You told me Pierce never discussed with you what he was leaving his son or exactly how he would obtain that. But you didn't point blank state that Pierce didn't leave his son's legacy with you. Everything you said was true.....but none of it means that Pierce didn't leave it with you. You parsed your words brilliantly. You must be one hell of a lawyer."

Valenti waited patiently while Angelone weighed his options, which really only boiled down to two: Confirm or deny. Either way they were having this conversation even if Valenti had to follow him into the bathtub. He'd decided on the long drive here that this time, he wasn't leaving without what he came for.

Finally Angelone pulled his key ring out of his pocket and unlocked his office door with hands that shook slightly.

"Come inside," he told Valenti.

Valenti obliged with a nod, glad that this game wasn't going to go to extra innings. Angelone locked the door behind him and indicated one of the two chairs in front of his desk.

"Have a seat. Will you have something to drink, or are you on duty?"

"I'm always on duty, but I'll take the drink anyway," Valenti replied. "I have a feeling I'm going to need it."

"Not as much as I will," Angelone said, pulling a bottle of whisky out of a cabinet. He poured two glasses, handed one to Valenti, then took a seat behind his desk.

"I must congratulate you, sheriff. My act has worked flawlessly on everyone, be they military, CIA, or FBI. You're the first—no, the only one to figure it out."

"So you do have it," Valenti said.

Angelone took a large swig of his drink, half draining the glass. "I have it," he confirmed. "But I have no idea what I have. At first that didn't bother me. But I confess that, as time has gone on and I've seen the lengths to which those who want whatever this is are willing to go to get it, I have to wonder if it's worth it."

The lawyer's hands were shaking badly as he clutched his glass, the professional demeanor he'd worn so effortlessly at their first meeting all but gone. "Are you referring to Helen?" Valenti asked gently. "My Special Unit contact told me she was dead."

Angelone drained his glass. "Last night. I'm her lawyer, so I got a call from one of Lewis' minions. He said it was natural causes, and I could tell from the tone of his voice that even he didn't believe that. I can't help but think...." He paused, closing his eyes. "I can't help but think that if I'd only given Lewis what he wanted, she might still be alive. And her son wouldn't be in the hands of a monster."

"So why didn't you?"

"Because I'd made a friend a promise," Angelone answered. "Because I had no idea what I was holding, still don't, for that matter. Because, whatever it was, I didn't think people would kill for it, and certainly not an innocent woman. I knew the baby was safe because his death meant it would never be delivered, and I foolishly thought Helen to be safe as well because she was his mother. Even when she married Lewis, even when he hid her away, I never thought he'd go this far."

Valenti leaned forward and unscrewed the whisky bottle. "My contact said Lewis was obsessed with keeping the baby's whereabouts secret," he said as he refilled Angelone's glass. "He'd ordered Helen not to give out their address to anyone, even her family....and she defied that order."

"Of course she did," Angelone said bitterly. "She was bound to come to her senses sooner or later. Unfortunately Daniel Jr. was born after her marriage to Lewis, which makes Lewis his legal father. With Helen out of the way, he can do as he likes with her son."

"Did she have a will?"

"Yes, not that it makes a difference," Angelone replied. "She had nothing of any real value except her child, and her estate, such as it is, will be divided between her son and her family unless Lewis goes to court and contests it."

"He won't," Valenti murmured.

"No, of course he won't," Angelone said angrily. "He'll want as little attention called to this as possible. So he'll give her family as much as they want, everything, if necessary, which will make him look kind and benevolent should they decide to challenge him for custody. That costs him nothing since he never wanted anything to do with her in the first place."

Valenti was quiet for a moment, taking only a sip of his drink even as Angelone gulped down half of his second. "Look...I know you blame yourself for this," Valenti said, "but you shouldn't. You had no way of knowing what you were getting yourself into, and very good reasons to believe Helen was safe. You also have to consider what would have happened if you'd turned over the baby's legacy against Pierce's wishes. The letter Pierce wrote detailing how that was to be delivered is a matter of legal record. It's not the least bit unthinkable that Lewis would have killed both Helen and her son to make certain they didn't challenge him for it, or at least go looking for it in the future."

"Perhaps," Angelone allowed. "Or perhaps it would have all faded away by the time little Daniel was old enough. They may have just thought it lost, or the mechanism by which he was meant to receive it a failure."

"And what is that mechanism?" Valenti asked. "Sounds like there are at least three government agencies and one sheriff scratching their heads over that one."

"And so unecessarily, too," Angelone sighed. "It pains me to think that so many of the people charged with the safety of our country are so dense. Present company excepted," he added hastily as Valenti raised an eyebrow. "It's just that it shouldn't be that hard to figure out. Pierce never thought he was going to die. He was cautious, paranoid, some might say, and he planned for the worst...but he never really thought it was going to happen. He thought himself above that, too clever to be caught, and, in a way, he was right. How terribly ironic that, in the end, he was caught by his own mortality."

Or an alien, Valenti amended silently. That's what Pierce hadn't banked on, that the aliens he'd tormented would eventually track him down.

"Pierce saw his arrangement with me as insurance, nothing more," Angelone continued. "And if the worst happened, carrying out his wishes shouldn't be difficult; as lawyer for both Pierce and his wife, and their friend, as you've already noted, I would be staying in touch with the family. Keeping track of his son should have been trivial. Even if I didn't live to oversee the delivery, precise instructions were written into my will which my own lawyers will follow to the letter."

"And which Lewis will never see," Valenti nodded. "So how do you deliver it now?"

Angelone hesitated. "I'm not sure. Pierce never foresaw his wife remarrying so quickly and rewriting the entire equation. I have the details of his birth—the boy was named after his father as planned, however Helen got that one past Lewis—but I no longer have access to him. Tracking him down will be significantly harder.

"I wouldn't worry about finding him," Valenti said. "Remember, they want what you have. So even if little Daniel virtually disappears, I'm willing to bet good money he'll resurface in a very visible way shortly before his thirtieth birthday."

"Perhaps, but even that won't settle it," Angelone said. "Even if he comes knocking on my door, I'll still need to verify his identity. Pierce was very clear on two points: I must be certain it was really his son and not some imposter posing as his son, and I must make a judgment as to whether he was worthy before I handed over his inheritance. That's why delivery was stipulated to occur in two stages, the first being a meeting with the inheritance coming after only if all the lights were green."

"He really does think of everything, doesn't he?" Valenti said dryly. "So his own kid has to pass muster. But muster for what? What did Pierce give you?"

"Papers," Angelone answered. "Loads of papers. 'Research', he called it, years of research that he claimed his son could make use of. I have no idea what kind of research. He didn't say, and I didn't ask. Obviously something of a very sensitive nature, or there wouldn't be so many coveting it." He paused, fingering his now empty glass. "What do you think I should do with it, sheriff? Whatever it is, Helen is dead because of it. What could possibly be so important that it would cost a simple woman her life? I have half a mind to destroy it and tell all and sundry I've done so just to settle the matter without further bloodshed. And to keep it away from men like Lewis," he added, anger wreathing his voice. "I don't even know what I have, but everything I've seen tells me that, whatever it is, it should not be allowed to fall into the hands of a man like him."

Angelone leaned forward, a spark back in his eyes. "We could do it together, sheriff," he said intently. "We could burn it. Make certain no one, not Lewis, or little Daniel, or the Army, or anyone gets their hands on it. We could end this right now, once and for all."

We could, Valenti agreed silently. But was that wise? According to Cates, Pierce's son would inherit something which gave the human race an advantage over its alien visitors, visitors whose intentions were still not clear. Dee Evans had described aliens warring with each other; Lewis, and Cavitt before him, had obviously considered them a more immediate threat. Whatever the truth, it was clear they were powerful beings willing to kill those who opposed them. And even if they weren't a direct threat to the human race, there was such a thing as being caught in the crossfire, and any who wound up dead as a result would be no less dead than someone directly targeted. Perhaps removing the only means of containing such beings was a very bad idea.

"I think we have to consider the likely reaction," Valenti said slowly. "If you tell interested parties that you've destroyed little Daniel's inheritance, you're admitting that you have it. That makes you and your family a target, and having been in that position, I can assure you it's not a position in which you'd wish to find yourself, not with Lewis, not with anyone. And what makes you think they'd believe you? You'd have to present evidence of its destruction, and any evidence which could be authenticated would mean it wasn't totally destroyed. And then there's the issue of what happens to Pierce's son. It was my understanding that Lewis and Pierce Sr. were sworn enemies. What will Lewis do to the child after he's outlived his usefulness, especially now that his mother is dead?"

Angelone pondered that in silence for a long minute. "You're right," he said finally. "Doing anything with what I have....surrendering it, destroying it, acknowledging its existence in any way....would likely wind up a death sentence for someone, maybe several someone's. It's best left where it is." He paused, eyeing Valenti. "Are you going to tell your FBI contact I have it?"

Valenti shook his head. "No. He'll come after you if I tell him, and there's really no need. His objective was to keep it away from Lewis, and that's already taken care of because the FBI has taken you off the list of suspects. He got what he wanted."

"They have?" Angelone let out a long, slow breath. "I can't tell you what a relief it is to know that. Oh, I'm still caught in the crosshairs of both the military and the CIA, but they've cut back of late."

"Probably taking their cue from Lewis," Valenti nodded. "He had his unit working full time on this, so if he's written you off, they probably don't think you're worth their time. So nice to know our various spy organizations spend time spying on each other."

"Yes," Angelone said tonelessly. "And are willing to murder to 'protect us'. That's what Lewis always claimed this was about, 'protecting us'. Apparently that didn't include Helen."

"In his mind....such as it is.....it probably did," Valenti said. "He would consider her an acceptable loss, an unavoidable casualty of war."

"But war against whom, sheriff? That's what I haven't been able to figure out. Who are we fighting? Communists?"

Valenti paused, staring at his nearly full glass of whiskey. "Worse. And you wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"I see," Angelone said slowly. "And having taken my measure, if you truly feel I wouldn't believe you.....it must be very bad indeed."

"Bad enough to kill for," Valenti agreed soberly. "Or so everyone seems to think." He set his glass down on the desk. "Thanks for the drink. And the after hours engagement. I'll let myself out."

"Sheriff?"

"Yes?"

"Have I done the right thing?"

The question was hesitant, fearful, with the tone of a penitant begging for absolution. "You did what you thought was right," Valenti said gently. "That's all any of us can do."

Neither man spoke again as Valenti left. It was dark outside, stars twinkling in the rural sky, and Valenti sat at the wheel of his car for several minutes, gazing at them. Have I done the right thing? It was a question for himself as well. By leaving Pierce's inheritance right where it was, had he merely postponed the day that Lewis got what he wanted? Had he condemned another alien captive to a long imprisonment, or removed any hope of friendship with whoever their visitors were? Or, by preserving Pierce's work, had he singlehandedly saved the human race from future destruction?

There's no way to know, Valenti thought as he turned over the engine. Future generations would have to decide if, in fact, he had done the right thing.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Only 2 more chapters to go! I'll post Chapter 93 next Sunday. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 92, 9/27

Post by Kathy W » Sun Oct 04, 2009 4:30 pm

Hello to everyone reading!




CHAPTER NINETY-THREE



November 3, 1959, 11:45 p.m.

Valenti residence








It was late when Valenti arrived home, by the clock and by design. He'd taken his sweet time driving back to Roswell, stopping for a cup of coffee in a roadside diner which boasted an eclectic clientele at this hour, making it the perfect place to ponder what had just happened with Pierce's lawyer and while away some time so as to avoid unpleasant confrontations. This was the last time he'd be trekking to De Baca County, so it wouldn't hurt to delay this particular argument and give everything some time to settle before tackling his next major mystery—how to make peace with his wife. Not the least bit eager to start on that one this evening, he slipped his shoes off before crossing the threshold, closing the front door extra quietly so as not to wake anyone.

"Fabulous," a deeply sarcastic voice said behind him. "Now you're not only coming home late, you're sneaking in."

A light snapped on, making him blink. Andi was seated halfway up the stairs, still fully dressed despite the hour. Obviously she'd had no intention of going to bed any time soon.

"I wasn't 'sneaking', I was trying to be thoughtful," Valenti protested. "It's a school night."

"You say that as if that means something to you," Andi said bitterly. "I'm so glad I convinced you to let Jimmy and me work at the station this summer. At the rate you're going, we may never see you again."

"Don't you think you're overreacting just a bit?" Valenti said, biting back a sharper comment. "You act like I haven't seen you in months."

"Because that's what it feels like," Andi retorted. "And why shouldn't it? Take today, for example. First you hang up on me, then you don't return my calls. And then I find out you skipped out of the station, no one knows where. Gosh, where could you have gone? I wonder what the mileage will be when I check the speedometer. I bet it's changed just enough to get you to some other county and back."

"What, are you keeping a log?" Valenti demanded. "Have you got a list of mileage markings, along with dates and gas receipts? Maybe you're checking the oil too? While you're at it you should check the air in the tires, and—"

"Jim, stop it! If you—"

"No, you stop it!" Valenti interrupted. "I'm tired of you making stupid accusations every single time I do something you don't like."

" 'Stupid' accusations?" Andi echoed in disbelief. "What am I supposed to think? No one at the station knew where you'd gone or when you'd be back. Even Hanson didn't know. Where were you?"

"So now you're interrogating my employees?" Valenti said angrily. "Andi, that is totally out of line!"

"Then what am I supposed to do?" Andi exclaimed in frustration. "How am I supposed to find out where my own husband is? You avoid me, and you won't talk to your employees, so that leaves me with guessing and speedometers and my own imagination. So if you want me to do things differently, then tell me what to do, Jim. Tell me how to find out where you are when you won't tell me. Tell me what to tell our son when he wants to know where his father is, and I have no idea!"

"I'm avoiding you because I'm tired of being given the third degree every time I see you," Valenti said. "And then you dismiss what I say as nonsense because it doesn't fit your pre-determined view of the universe, or you tell me I'm nuts, or—"

"I never said you were 'nuts'."

"No, you just implied it. What a relief. I feel so much better."

"If you want me to believe you, then talk to me!"

" 'Talking' implies conversation," Valenti shot back. " 'Conversation' involves an exchange of ideas, with each person listening to the other, not me saying something and you shooting it down!"

"How about me asking something, and you not answering?" Andi said angrily.

"Fine," Valenti said flatly. "Ask me something."

"Oh, please," Andi said indignantly. "I have no intention of wasting my time trying yet again to—"

"Then why are you up at this hour? Why are you parked on the stairs if not to talk to me? What, you waited all this time just to bitch? So it isn't really conversation you wanted after all, is it? It's not answers you want, it's a punching bag."

Andi flushed. "Don't be ridiculous," she snapped. "That is not true."

"Prove it. Ask me whatever you want, and I'll answer you."

"Truthfully?"

"I never lied to you," Valenti insisted. "The nature of my job doesn't allow me to tell you everything—"

"Oh, of course, the 'nature of the job' argument. The all purpose garbage disposal where questions you'd rather not answer wind up."

"That's crap, but have it your way," Valenti retorted. "Like I said, ask me whatever you want, and I'll answer you."

Both took a breath and measured each other in tense silence, with only the ticking of a clock in the background. "Okay," Andi said finally. "I'll bite. Where were you tonight?"

"De Baca county."

"Why?"

"I was talking to the lawyer for the man who held aliens captive in the late forties, a doctor who went AWOL in 1950—"

"Aliens again," Andi broke in, throwing her hands up in the air. "I should have known."

"See, this is why we don't talk any more," Valenti said in exasperation. "The problem isn't me not talking, it's you not listening."

"Fine," Andi sighed. "I'm listening. Go ahead."

"Like hell you are," Valenti said darkly.

"I am! I said I'm listening, and I am!"

"Bullshit," Valenti said bitterly. "Listening involves not interrupting. Listening involves at least trying to understand what you're hearing, not just taking mental notes about how you're going to skewer me the minute I pause for breath."

"Well, what do you expect with all these fantastic stories without a shred of evidence—"

"I showed you evidence!" Valenti objected. "You saw all that stuff I have in the basement—"

"You showed me a bunch of old records and told me some wild conclusions you'd jumped to. You call that 'evidence'?"

"Then what about the FBI?" Valenti asked. "They were willing to lock us all up because they thought there were aliens here."

Andi locked both hands behind her neck and stared at the floor. "I am certain the FBI truly believes in what they're doing. Those who live on the fringe usually do. But that's not you, Jim. You're not so gullible. You're not given to buying every hokey story you're told. You don't have a 'special unit' to justify, or a crazy theory that your job depends on."

Valenti climbed the few stairs between him and his wife, determined to take advantage of this lull before the bell rang again. "And that's why you should believe me," he said intently, taking her hands. "Because I'm not gullible, I'm not easy to pull one over on, and my job doesn't depend on this being true. You should know me better than to think I'd buy into this without very, very good reasons."

She said nothing, just looked at him with a mixture of longing and skepticism that was hard to interpret. "Tonight, I had to make a big decision," Valenti went on. "I'm still not sure if I did the right thing. I was gone so long because I stopped at a diner on the way back and went over it and over it, trying to make my peace with it. Right or wrong, what I did could affect future generations for better or for worse, and....and I need someone to talk to about it. I need you, Andi. Because I trust your opinion above all others, just like you trust mine. Or you used to."

" 'Future generations'," Andi said slowly. "Does that mean humans....or aliens?"

Valenti hesitated. "Both."

They sat on the stairs for another minute in silence before Andi pulled her hands away. "I'm sorry, Jim," she said sadly. "I can't do this. It's just too far out for me. And I'm really worried that people are going to think you're crazy, and that Jimmy's going to have a hard time because of it. Whatever it is you think is out there, please, just walk away. There's no need for you to get involved when the FBI has a unit dedicated to exactly what you think they're chasing. Let them do it. You stay out of it."

"I can't," Valenti said.

"Can't....or won't?" Andi whispered.

"Both."

Andi backed up a step. "Then if you insist on going down that road....you'll go alone. I can't go with you."

"Can't?" Valenti asked softly. "Or won't?"

She gazed at him then with the most anguished expression he'd ever seen her wear before turning and climbing the stairs without another word. Valenti waited a moment before following her, pausing at his son's door on the way to his own bedroom.

"Go back to bed, Jimmy," he said quietly.





*****************************************************




The desert outside Roswell




"Penny for your thoughts?"

Standing at a distance from the crowd, Brivari smiled faintly as David Proctor came up behind him. "I have learned the origin of many human phrases which, at first, appear nonsensical. Alas, not that one."

"Not sure where it came from," David admitted. "I guess it's just a light-hearted way of asking someone what they're thinking. Although pennies aren't worth what they used to be, so that part doesn't count for much now."

"It's hard to believe that one's thoughts are considered so hard to come by that one must offer currency to receive them," Brivari said. "No offense, but my estimation of most humans is that they have difficulty not sharing their thoughts."

"In other words, we never shut up," David chuckled.

"A less diplomatic interpretation," Brivari said, "but accurate, nonetheless."

"But you're not human, so that doesn't apply," David said. "Once again: Penny for your thoughts?"

Brivari's eyes strayed over the dark desert. "My thoughts are perhaps best left unspoken."

"All right," David said levelly. "Let's move on to mine. I'm glad the resistance was able to get their hands on Malik's and Michael's remains so they can be properly laid to rest."

"I fail to see what good that does. Whatever the disposition of their remains, they are no less dead."

"True," David agreed. "But it makes a difference. I know it does; I learned that in the war. When you have something to say goodbye to.....that matters." He paused. "Did you have some kind of funeral for the royal family?"

Yes, Brivari thought silently. And it mattered. As it clearly mattered to the group milling several yards in front of him, mostly members of the Argilian resistance, here to pay their respects to their fallen leader. The Proctors were here, along with Dee and her family, including their son, who appeared more interested in the starry night sky than anything else. Jaddo was here also, deep in conversation with Michael's second, most likely about the second set of pods. The news about that set had been bittersweet; they had supposedly survived, but no one knew where they were, their location having been lost when the resistance operative who had hidden them had been executed before she had been able to relay that information. Yet another bit of bad news, and one that had not improved Brivari's mood or opinion of his fellow Warder.

"So are you two even speaking to each other?" David asked.

"When necessary," Brivari answered.

"He doesn't seem upset," David observed.

"He's not," Brivari said darkly. "I would have expected him to exhibit at least a tiny bit of regret under the circumstances, but he remains undaunted, insisting he did the right thing in spite of the outcome."

"Did he?"

"Does that really need answering?"

"That's hindsight," David reminded him. "Everything always looks different in hindsight. What about before that?"

Brivari closed his eyes briefly, cursing the twist of fate that would bring that question from this source. With anyone else he could have simply focused on that hindsight, but this was David Proctor. He knew the difference.

"His concerns were valid," Brivari allowed grudgingly. "There was indeed a risk if both of us perished and no one knew where to find the Royal Four.

"No one but us, that is," David noted.

"A burden even Jaddo agreed we could not place on your family," Brivari replied. "We cannot expect you to judge the intentions of those who would come seeking them. But he went about adjusting the situation in entirely the wrong way and at the wrong time. He should have consulted me, and we should have waited until Nicholas had left Roswell."

"And if something catastrophic had happened before he left? What then?"

"A calculated risk," Brivari said. "Which is precisely what Jaddo calls his own actions. We each calculated differently."

"Right," David murmured. "Well.....I don't pretend to understand those calculations, and they're none of my business anyway. But I've seen an awful lot of carefully thought out plans based on sound logic go completely awry due to factors no one could have foreseen or affected. If you'd done it your way, it may have worked out better....or it may have worked out worse. But I agree he should have told you."

"It doesn't help that he essentially drove this situation to give his life meaning and purpose," Brivari added.

"There were lots of people like that after the war," David said, "soldiers who didn't know what to do with themselves in the absence of a fight. Some of them adapted, some imploded, some moved on to other battles....and some created their own."

"Exactly," Brivari nodded.

"But whatever happened, whatever you think of that, it's worth remembering that you're not the only one who came up short," David continued. "There were casualties on all sides....and one side proved themselves. You should go talk to her. I think she could use a little guidance right now, from someone other than Jaddo."

Brivari sighed as David ambled off in the direction of his grandson, who was happily grabbing handfuls of sand and flinging them into the air, an eerie precursor to what was shortly to happen. There were indeed formalities to attend to, even here, in this desolate place worlds away from what they were fighting for. Sacrifice required recognition.

The resistance contingent fell silent and fell back as he approached, parting in front of him in a gesture which resembled deference but was likely nothing of the sort. Courtney was at the far edge of the crowd; her eyes widened slightly when she saw him coming, but she held her ground and dismissed her companions with a nod, leaving them alone together as the others stood watching from a distance.

"I was going to ask for a private audience, but I see that is unnecessary," Brivari observed.

"They respect you," Courtney answered.

"They fear me," Brivari corrected.

"Is there a difference?"

Brivari smiled faintly. Michael's daughter had lost none of her cheek even if she was regarding him warily. "Are you here to kill me?" she asked abruptly.

"So blunt," Brivari said dryly. "And so typical; everyone always assumes our arrival heralds death. Disposing of an obviously loyal ally would be downright foolish."

She stared at him in surprise for a moment, clearly not having expected to find herself on such footing. "Loyal or not, we lost both sets of hybrids you entrusted to us."

"I entrusted you with nothing," Brivari answered. "And neither did Jaddo. It was your father with whom he bargained...and your father who ultimately paid the highest price." He paused as she looked away. "You have the crown's deepest sympathies for your loss, and deepest gratitude for your father's sacrifice in its defense. When he is able, the king will learn of it from me personally."

"Thank you," she whispered. "But we both lost someone."

"Yes," Brivari murmured. "The king will learn of Malik's sacrifice as well."

They stood in awkward silence for a few moments before she spoke again. "So where will you go now?"

"Jaddo wishes to leave a trail for our enemies to follow, while I wish to disappear," Brivari replied, "an endless argument which is proving to be something we simply cannot agree on."

"My father would have agreed with you," Courtney said. "He spent most of his life being invisible. That was how he rose so high in Nicholas' ranks."

"And what put him in a position to strike when the time finally came," Brivari nodded. "Never engage an enemy of greater strength and numbers unless absolutely necessary. I'm glad to hear you understand that, even if Jaddo doesn't."

"I know what you mean," she answered. "And I know you're right. It's what my father would advise us to do, what we're going to do, to vanish until we're needed again. But I must admit I'm grateful you didn't follow that the other night."

"Meaning?"

"Meaning I appreciate you pulling me out of there, even though I know you didn't come for me."

"And who do you think we came for?"

"The hybrids, of course. Who else?"

"Neither Jaddo nor I were aware hybrids had been captured until we got there," Brivari said. "We only knew that the resistance had been discovered, and we came on behalf of that resistance. We would have come for Malik also if we had known in time. The king defends his allies," he continued when she gave him a skeptical look. "Even from the grave."

"He's not dead," Courtney said. "You made that very clear in the message you sent back on our ship."

"That I did," Brivari agreed, noting the irony that a member of the Argilian resistance was speaking of his Ward in more hopeful terms than he was. "And it appears to have had the desired effect."

"Maybe too good of one," Courtney said sadly. "Some say Khivar is considering killing all of your people. I never thought he'd do that. I thought he'd want them around for when he got his hands on the mark and could command them himself."

"He is no longer certain he can do that," Brivari said. "Strategically it's a gamble, a race to see if he can find the hybrids before they emerge. These latest setbacks make victory in that race appear far less certain, not to mention they will galvanize the resistance back home. He would need to make some sort of grand gesture to offset that. Threatening to dispose of my race would serve nicely."

"Jesus, how can you sound so logical about it?" Courtney muttered.

"I have played this game a good deal longer than you have," Brivari pointed out. "Khivar is flexing his muscles, as the humans would say, making it clear he has the power to do what he's threatened. I doubt he'll actually make good on that threat, but in the end, it doesn't matter. As a manufactured race we were manufactured once, and we can be manufactured again. There are some advantages to not being 'real people'."

"I don't believe you're not real people," Courtney said. "Not anymore."

"Indeed?" Brivari murmured. "That's quite a statement. Is that why you're willing to use a Covari burial ritual for your own father?"

"Partly," she admitted. "And partly because it fits. My father spent his entire life undermining Nicholas, undermining Khivar. He was never free.....until now. But I haven't told them that," she added, nodding toward the group watching from a distance. "They think it's an Earth ritual, and Malik is being included out of courtesy." She paused. "They want me to lead them. Me, of all people."

"You should," Brivari said.

She looked at him incredulously, like he'd taken leave of his senses. "What, now you, too? I can't lead the resistance!"

"Judging by your recent actions, it appears that you not only can, but that you are."

"I....I can't," she stammered. "I don't have enough experience. Nathaniel has been my father's second for as long as I can remember. He's far better suited for that role."

"Leadership is about more than just experience," Brivari noted. "Every bit as important is the ability to connect emotionally with those you lead. Nathaniel may have more experience, but he will not draw the response that you will as Michael's daughter."

"But we need that experience—"

"Of course you do," Brivari agreed. "That's what advisors are for. I'm sure Nathaniel will make as fine a second for you as he did for your father."

"So....you think I should do it?"

It was a plaintive question that almost begged for a negative response, and for just a moment, the young woman in front of him faded, replaced by a young man who was equally unsure of himself and his ability to lead. "I think," Brivari said slowly, "that I would be fortunate to have a proven ally in a position to assist in the future if need be. And I think you are not alone in having leadership thrust upon you at a young age. The same thing happened to the king."

"And we all know how well that turned out," Courtney said.

"Because of Vilandra," Brivari reminded her. "Take her out of the equation, and the king would not have fallen. And it's worth remembering that Khivar has failed to take the throne precisely because of Zan's appeal to his subjects. I will grant that his father was the author of much of that appeal, if not most, but sometimes I feel I don't give him due credit. He could be thoughtless and headstrong. But the youth and exuberance which were the source of those traits were the very reasons he was so loved, along with the stability and peace he represented. The hope of his return keeps the resistance alive on two planets. Not bad for someone who regularly drove me crazy."

She smiled then, a wide, sudden smile that lit her young face like a lantern and drew murmurs of surprise from those watching. "You sound like my father," she chuckled. "He said exactly the same things about me. And God knows I drove him crazy more often than not."

"Let me guess," Brivari said. "You objected to your father's depiction of you as a child who couldn't possibly know what you were doing while he constantly asserted his experience and authority. I've been there," he added when she dropped her eyes. "And from such confrontations, however uncomfortable they may be, can leaders be made. Zan was only just coming into his own when he was struck down. You are more fortunate." He glanced at the crowd, silent now, and watchful, probably wondering what could possibly have made Michael's daughter laugh out loud in the presence of a Royal Warder. "Perhaps you should go. They're waiting for you."

She hesitated a moment before taking a few steps forward, then turned around. "You should come with me," she said firmly. "This is for all of us. For Antar."

He followed her without comment, the crowd parting once again to let them pass. The skin flakes which were all that remained of Michael Harris were gathered in a bag, while the little bit of Malik's dust they had been able to retrieve was in a much smaller one. As everyone gathered around, Courtney picked up the bag with her father's remains and handed Malik's to Brivari, only to pull it back just before he took it.

"Let's switch," she suggested. "You take my father, and I'll take Malik."

She handed him the bag containing Michael's remains, the crowd shifting uncomfortably as he took it. "I think we should tell them," she added. "We should tell them this is actually a Covari ritual, and what it means."

"Is that wise?" Brivari asked. "They won't like that."

"Maybe not," she allowed. "But it's the right thing to do."





**************************************************




FBI headquarters,

Washington, D.C.





The limousine came to a halt outside the Department of Justice, and Agent Lewis reached for his briefcase. "Good evening, sir," intoned the agent who opened the door for him. "I'm Agent Dobson. How are you this evening?"

"Well, thank you," Lewis replied, climbing out.

"Pull around back, and wait," Dobson ordered the chauffer. The limo slid off, black car into black night beneath the street lights of Washington. "Right this way, sir," Dobson said, gesturing to Lewis, who followed him into the Department of Justice, deserted at this hour. Only this time there was no confiscation of his weapon, no phalanx of guards surrounding him. The few heads that were there nodded slightly as he walked by unhindered and unaccompanied into the elevator, where Dobson held up a small key.

"The Director has made plans to dine with you. Would you prefer the filet mignon or the rack of lamb?"

"The filet, please," Lewis answered.

"I'll relay your preference," Dobson answered.

This is more like it, Lewis thought with satisfaction as the elevator door closed in front of him. Punching the button for the top floor, he waited until the elevator had arrived before inserting the key and turning it, sending the elevator upwards again. A few seconds later the doors opened onto the small alcove outside the Director's office where two guards greeted him.

"Agent Lewis," one of them said. "Welcome. The Director will be pleased to see you."

What, no patdown? Lewis thought smugly as he walked between the guards, both of whom nodded deferentially. How very different was this reception from the first, when he'd been treated like a member of the public, and a criminal member at that. The guard who had spoken held the Director's door open for him, and for the third time this year, Lewis stepped inside.

"Bernard," a voice called. "Good to see you. Please....have a seat."

The seat J. Edgar Hoover indicated was one of two at a polished wood table placed halfway between the door and the desk in the long, narrow office. And what a table it was, set with fine china, real silver, and a waiter beside each chair, one of whom settled a linen napkin on Lewis' lap as he took his seat.

"Leave us," Hoover ordered.

Lewis settled back into his chair with a satisfied smile as the waiters complied. "I wasn't expecting a dinner invitation, sir. What a pleasant surprise."

"Yes, well, I figured that as long as we were reviewing your Special Unit's first few months of operation, we may as well do so in comfort. Coffee?"

"Please," Lewis answered, stiffening slightly. "Perhaps I misunderstood, sir. I thought you called me here for my report on the latest alien murder near Roswell. I'm not.....in possession of all the necessary documentation to do a full review," he finished, having been about to say I'm not prepared to do a full review and caught himself just in time. Announcing to J. Edgar Hoover that you were unprepared was akin to telling God you never prayed.

"No matter; I have full documentation of your activities right here," Hoover said, patting a mound of papers on a table nearby with his left hand as he stirred his coffee with his right. "Rolls?"

Lewis took a roll and buttered it with hands that would have shaken if he hadn't been careful. He'd had no idea his entire unit was up for review, or that that review would arrive unannounced. He'd been so elated when the Director has summoned him personally that he'd merely assumed it was regarding the John Doe from Roswell and had neglected to review or even consider anything else. Exceptionally foolish of him, given who he was dealing with. All those phone calls with the Director merely a disembodied voice on the other end of the line had made him complacent.

"So," Hoover continued, buttering his own roll, "if memory serves, we've seen three deaths by alien means since the formation of this unit, two of which involved silver handprints and the other some form of incineration. The first was Dr. Pierce, and you responded with admirable speed and skill, confiscating the body and seeking out any possible locations where he could have hidden the formula for his famous serum. The second was one Audrey Tate, an actress on a movie being shot in Roswell, and your handling of that was a virtual mirror image of Pierce's case, mismanaged from the start and resulting in the loss of not only the body but any useable evidence regarding it, plus a suspect whom you chased but failed to capture. Not to mention that one of your agents was exposed to the local, and you were outgunned by two measly county sheriffs, nearly exposing this unit to the press."

Lewis flushed, desperately wishing the coffee growing cold in front of him was wine. He could use a touch of alcohol right now. Then again, perhaps it was best to keep a clear head since it was now clear that he was going to have to fight for the Special Unit's life. The fine meal in which he had been so pleased to have been included was looking more and more like a last meal.

"The third," Hoover continued, "was a John Doe who used the pseudonym 'James Anderson'. Your response improved this time, and you managed to acquire the body, although you don't appear to have learned anything more about the killers or their motives."

"Sir, it's only been a few days—"

"In addition, you acquired one working piece of alien technology which promptly killed one of your agents," Hoover went on, ignoring him, "and you lost another agent to his sympathizing with Roswell's sheriff. We still have no idea what the aliens are doing here, nor have we managed to capture any, although your failure to locate Pierce's serum would severely tie our hands should we do so. Final count: Three murders, two bodies, two dead agents, one piece of alien tech, destroyed, and no serum, no alien prisoners, no idea what they're doing here. Is that a fair summary, Agent Lewis?"

The office door opened, and waiters with trays entered. Lewis used the interruption to gather his wits, barely noticing the exquisite filet placed in front of him. Hoover tucked into his own fillet with gusto, the rack of lamb having apparently been found wanting.

"I would call it an accurate summary, sir," Lewis said finally, "if one is looking strictly at the numbers."

"And if one isn't?"

"You neglected to mention that my unit has provided incontrovertible proof that aliens are not only here, but here with purpose," Lewis answered, ignoring the fact that the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation was talking with his mouth full. "Hence the use of the term 'operative' by the alien who answered the communication device we confiscated, a device which indeed killed one of my agents, but only because we managed to activate it. And my admitted missteps during the investigations of one of the murders pales by comparison to the fact that three human beings are dead by alien hands, and just in the past four months. Given the previous decade of total silence, this sudden burst of activity does not bode well for the people of this nation, or, indeed, this planet. The loss of one my agents to emotion and sentimentality also pales by comparison to the fact that the rest are loyal. And the loss of another in the line of duty is an unfortunate consequence of the perilous work we do. Frankly, I'm grateful we haven't lost more."

Hoover polished off another quarter of his filet before giving Lewis a questioning look. "Is that all?"

"Were you looking for something else, sir?"

"As a matter of fact, I was," Hoover answered. "I want an explanation as to why your best work occurred prior to the formation of the unit, during the investigation of Pierce's death. Your performance has lagged since acquiring your own command, lending credence to the Army's decision not to reinstate you. In short, agent, I'm wondering why I should keep the Special Unit around given that you seem to function best without it. Perhaps the pressure of command is too intense. You can always hunt aliens the way you did before—solo."

Lewis blinked. "Are you serious?" he demanded. "With all due respect, sir, the reason my unit hasn't 'produced' more in the short amount of time it's been in existence is because it's understaffed. We need to be ready to respond to any, any sign of alien activity anywhere around the globe, but I can't do that with just a handful of agents. We need to scour the country and perhaps the planet for Pierce's serum, but I can't do that with just a handful of agents. The reason my 'performance' appeared to lag after the unit's formation is that along with the unit's formation came a vastly increased set of expectations, expectations which cannot be met with the current workforce. I need more men, not less."

"More?" Hoover echoed.

"Yes, more," Lewis insisted. "Especially in light of the fact that there will be losses, whether they be casualties or simply not cut out for the job. Not to mention that the two I lost were never replaced, meaning I'm operating with less than a full complement, that number being woefully deficient to start with. If you want me to do my job better, then give me the manpower to do it! Disbanding the unit will only set us back, as well as pose a serious security risk by scattering any agents who assist me across the Bureau instead of corralling them in once place where I can keep an eye on them. Given the sensitive nature of our mandate, they must be held to a higher standard of discretion which would be very hard to maintain in the absence of a cohesive group with strong leadership and a clear focus."

Lewis paused, partly for breath and partly because he was too furious to continue. To have the last four months of his life, with all its attendant hardships and sacrifices, reduced to a sterile list of targets acquired and lost smacked of the military, not the Bureau. The Bureau should know better. Hoover, for his part, was completely unruffled by Lewis' discomfiture, having continued chewing complacently. His filet was almost gone, while Lewis' was untouched.

"However wanting you find my performance, sir," Lewis continued, "one thing is clear: Aliens remain on this planet, and they will kill us without hesitation. The Bureau must respond. How it responds is, of course, your decision. I submit to you that the Special Unit is the best answer to this threat, and if you disagree, would ask how you intend to fulfill your duty to protect the American people from all enemies, both foreign and domestic."

Hoover stopped chewing. "Are you insinuating that I have been derelict in my duty?"

"No, sir," Lewis answered firmly. "I am saying point blank that you will be derelict if you respond to this clear and present danger in the manner you have suggested."

Silence. Lewis kept his eyes on Hoover, whose fork was poised in mid-air as he regarded Lewis with interest and....something else. Was he expecting him to retreat or apologize? Fat chance, Lewis thought darkly. The only way one could survive making an announcement like that to a man like Hoover was to stand behind it, all the way to the grave, if necessary.

At length, Hoover set his fork down. "I'll forgive your insubordination in light of your recent loss."

"Loss?" Lewis echoed.

Hoover smiled faintly. "Your wife, agent. Or have you forgotten?"

Damn it. "In a way, sir," Lewis answered, having not given Helen a second thought other to be glad she was no longer in the way. "I've had to set my grief aside in order to do my job."

"Oh, of course," Hoover nodded. "Very commendable, that. And very fortunate for the Bureau that the key to Pierce's serum now rests entirely in our hands."

"Yes, sir," Lewis agreed. "Very fortunate."

"And very telling," Hoover added. "Because it tells me that you're willing to do anything, say anything, go to any lengths to stop these things. That's what I need. That's what this country needs." He paused, his hands folded over his nearly empty plate. "How many men do you want?"

"A hundred, sir," Lewis answered promptly. "An agent in every state to funnel information my way and enough left over to be able to send teams wherever I need them. Those acting as state informants will be considered entry level, with elevation to the position of team agent coming only after their loyalty and fitness for the position has been assessed. That should prevent any other unfortunate incidents like Owens."

Lewis waited while Hoover gave him one of his trademark penetrating stares. The praise could mean nothing; Hoover was noted for toying with his prey, and many a premature celebration had been cut short as the prize being dangled was snatched away. And his request was nothing short of astonishing, a twenty-fold increase in the size of the Special Unit and its expansion nationwide. It was arrogant. It was presumptuous. It was downright preposterous.

And it was the only way to pique the interest of a man like Hoover. "Done," he said calmly as Lewis squelched the urge to smile broadly. "Have a list of names for me by the end of the week. And agent," he added, leaning in closer, "this increase in personnel comes with an increase in expectations. Get me those monsters. By any means necessary."

"With pleasure, sir," Lewis answered.

The door opened, and a waiter reappeared. "Re-warm Agent Lewis' dinner," Hoover ordered. "I believe we'll find that his appetite has improved."




~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



This book comes to an end next week! I'll post the last chapter next Sunday, along with a teaser for Book 5. :)
BRIVARI: "In our language, the root of the word 'Covari' means 'hidden'. I'm always there, Your Highness, even if you don't see me."

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Kathy W
Obsessed Roswellian
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Re: All Too Human *Series* (AU, TEEN), Chapter 93, 10/4

Post by Kathy W » Sun Oct 11, 2009 1:50 pm

CHAPTER NINETY-FOUR


November 4, 1959, 1 a.m.

Pod Chamber






"I told you they were still here," a voice said behind him. "Safe and sound."

Brivari said nothing as he gazed at the one set of pods which remained in their possession, all still in excellent condition. They had done some redecorating, hanging the pods on the wall which hid the entrance to the Granolith, one of several precautions taken to safeguard their only way home. The royal mark glittered intermittently on Zan's forehead, and he found himself waiting for those moments when the bright circles representing the stars of the five planets surfaced briefly, only to sink back into the hybrid's brain. Rays of hope in a very dark place.

"Well?" Jaddo demanded. "Aren't you going to say anything? They are here, as I said. We remain in possession of the only set which matters."

"You don't really expect me to praise you for going behind my back and handing out our Wards like party favors, do you?"

Jaddo sat down beside him. "They are not all our Wards, Brivari. There can be only one king. Time has proven this the best of the sets, and this Zan hybrid bears the mark. These are our Wards. The others are merely insurance."

"And until this set emerges whole and healthy and ready to regain what they lost, we need that insurance," Brivari answered. "So until that day comes, they are all our Wards. They have to be. Not that it matters now," he added darkly. "It's too late for the others."

"Not all of them. We only lost one set. The other made it through."

"They shouldn't have had to 'make it' anywhere, and we don't know where they are. Which qualifies them as 'lost' in any parlance."

"Correction: We know they are in New York City. And as we will likely never have need of them, that's more than we'll likely ever need to know."

"That's an awful lot of 'likely's'," Brivari said bitterly.

Jaddo shook his head sadly. "What happened to you? Of the two of us, you're usually the 'glass is half full' type. We've switched."

"We certainly have. Since when do you voluntarily use human expressions?"

" 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'," Jaddo replied, smiling faintly at the look on Brivari's face. He held up a hand. "I found the perfect place for this, and quite fitting too. What better place for a book than a library?"

"A library?" Brivari echoed. "You wish to hide Valeris' notes in a human building?"

"Is there any other kind?" Jaddo asked dryly. "The library in Roswell is quite new, only about five years old. Judging from the age of other public buildings, it should stand for many decades to come. We can easily shield the book from human eyes, along with the control crystal and the key, when I find it. Argilians would not think to look there."

"Nor would I," Brivari muttered.

"Do you have any idea where to leave the map?" Jaddo asked, ignoring him.

"Yes—in the cave where I hid from the hunters while you were captive. It is quite deep, and the odds of anyone finding it are remote. Plus it's acquired something of a reputation since I lived there. Few go there now."

"Excellent," Jaddo agreed. "If the map is to be in the cave, perhaps the healing stones should be left with your Indian friend."

"Why? So you can kill him for having them?"

Jaddo heaved an exasperated sigh. "No. So they will be in the hands of an ally who has ready access to the map. What?" he added with Brivari gave him a skeptical look. "I am not opposed to allies, Brivari. I simply want them to prove themselves. Like the Proctors. Or the Harris's. Or your 'Indians'. Hopefully none of this will be needed; hopefully we will be there when our Wards emerge. But if the worst happens and they are alone, they will need guidance, and we both agreed it was best to remove the means to operate the Granolith in case of discovery. The map will guide them to everything they need to know about who they are, where they came from, and how to get back there."

"And you're sure this will guide them to the map?" Brivari asked, gazing at a set of symbols on the wall above Rath's pod.

"Rath developed this code himself," Jaddo replied. "He should remember it."

" 'Should'," Brivari murmured. "We hope."

"Yes, of course we hope," Jaddo said briskly. "It's what you do best. Now, I've mapped out an itinerary for our first month or two so as to best lead everyone astray. If we start just south of Roswell—"

"I'm not going with you."

Jaddo blinked. "Excuse me?"

"I said I'm not going with you."

The silence in the chamber was so profound, it was almost possible to hear the beating of each hybrid heart. "You....you're not?" Jaddo said after a long moment.

"No."

"Brivari, this is hardly the time for petulance—"

"This is not petulance," Brivari broke in. "This is pragmatism. We are opposite sides of a coin, you and I. That worked when in the shadow of our Wards, but left to our own devices, we clash. I choose to hide and watch our enemies fruitlessly search for us, while you choose to lure them out and pick them off."

"A proven military strategy," Jaddo noted.

"But this is not a military campaign," Brivari said. " This is undermining your enemy quietly, surreptitiously, never showing your hand. This is surveillance, watching and waiting. Even the resistance understands the value of that, having watched and waited for years, their leader working his way up the chain of command until he was in an immeasurably valuable position. This is invisibility, something we are supposed to be masters of. You just can't do that. Neither could Atherton. For all that you find fault with him, you are much alike."

"All right, so we differ," Jaddo said impatiently. "That's hardly a reason to stomp off in a huff. Leaving two disparate trails is a hallmark of our strategy, to divide our enemies—"

"Wrong," Brivari interrupted firmly. "It is a hallmark of your strategy, one developed without consulting me. Just like you killed Audrey without consulting me. Just like you distributed hybrids without consulting me. I can't have that, Jaddo. I can't have you continue acting unilaterally."

"If you're concerned about me 'acting unilaterally', I would think you'd want to stay close," Jaddo argued.

"I have been close," Brivari answered. "And that didn't work. If anything, it made things worse as you overreacted to my actions—"

"Or inactions," Jaddo muttered.

"—and I was forced to counter your indiscretions. It's clear that proximity doesn't temper your judgment or lack thereof. You will do what you will do, and it's quite possible you do more of it when you are near to and in conflict with me....and whenever you do, the odds increase that you will bring down the both of us. We can't afford that. It's time to try a new approach."

"Which is exactly what we're doing," Jaddo insisted. "We are leading our enemies astray, making them think we've left the area and, in the case of the Argilians, that we've taken the hybrids with us. That is a 'new approach'."

"Yes," Brivari said softly. "And one of your making. Don't you see it, Jaddo? You did this. You didn't create the war, but you created this battle, and now look at you—you're smiling, you're joking, you're happier than I've seen you in years. You have what you need now: Direction, purpose, a reason for being." He paused, gazing at the pods. "I can only hope that pursuing that direction without me will give you a perspective you lacked here. Now you can focus your efforts solely on that purpose without wasting time and energy objecting to my very different tactics, trying to change my mind and pull me into your whirlwind. Hopefully that will make you a bit more circumspect. Without me, you and you alone will be responsible for your missteps, a burden you have not had to bear of late, and one that might focus your thoughts and clarify your actions. Or so I hope."

Brivari waited, knowing he was treading dangerous ground. For all that Jaddo liked, no, needed, a fight, he also loathed being alone. And yet, given his behavior, alone is what he must be, at least in the short term, and to his credit, he appeared to realize that. He made no attempt to argue, just turned away, staring silently at a blank wall, saying nothing for a long time.

"Where will you go?" he said finally.

"Anywhere," Brivari said quietly. "Anywhere but where you are."




****************************************************




6:30 a.m.

Proctor residence






"Is that everything?" Anthony asked.

"Yup," Dee answered, leaning the stroller up against the suitcases.

"Why does it look like more than what we came with?"

"Because it is. Mama and Daddy added a few things. Don't they always?"

"That's okay; they love us," Anthony answered, eyeballing the trunk of their borrowed car. "And we have half the back seat. Is Philip done with breakfast?"

"Almost. Thank God he's still in diapers, or we'd have to stop every hour to pee."

"Not looking forward to that," Anthony agreed. "Is Courtney gone?"

Dee glanced back at the house. "She left first thing this morning. They all did."

"How was she?"

"Better. She seemed more settled, more sure of herself."

"Did she ever say what Brivari said to her last night?"

"No. But it had to have been something good if she was laughing and feeling better."

Anthony closed the trunk lid, pushing down the last few inches as a reluctant bag pushed back. "She did a good job last night, stepping up like that. Having Brivari join her, taking care of Malik herself, even telling everyone what they were doing and why....that took a lot of guts given how they feel about Covari."

"It sure did," Dee murmured, recalling the startled expressions when Courtney had announced they were using a Covari burial ritual. She seriously doubted any of the other resistance operatives had taken that seriously, just like Courtney hadn't taken it seriously when she'd first learned of it. What they had taken seriously was the fact that Michael's daughter had herself let Malik's dust fly with the wind and allowed Brivari to do the same for their leader, her own father. Everyone had remained politely silent, but Dee was willing to bet none of them would have voluntarily allowed a Covari to touch their fallen leader or stooped to touching a Covari themselves, dead or alive.

Philip appeared on the porch with his grandparents in tow. "Good thing this happened while he was still young," Anthony said. "He won't remember any of it."

"I certainly hope not," Dee agreed. "I wouldn't mind forgetting parts of it myself."

"We didn't want you to forget this," Emily called as Philip made a beeline down the front walk toward his parents.

"Get everything in?" David asked Anthony.

"Just barely," Anthony smiled. "Well....thanks for having us. Again. It's been an adventure. Always is."

"And it's not over," David added. "Look who's come to see you off."

Dee's gaze drifted down the street, still largely asleep at this hour, to find Valenti leaning against his parked cruiser a couple of houses down. She was still feeling guilty about the way she'd used him, dangling tantalizing information in front of him and then leaving. Granted he'd turned down her plea for help and advised her to go, but still....it just seemed mean to leave him hanging like that.

"Want me to talk to him?" David asked.

"No," Dee said. "This one's mine."

She left her family milling on the sidewalk and took her time walking over to Valenti, who waited for her unhurriedly. What to tell him? Actually, at this point it didn't matter what she told him. Everyone was gone: Brivari, Jaddo, Courtney, Nicholas, and Malik and Michael, of course, who were gone for good. Nicholas had reportedly left a handful of operatives in Roswell looking for resistance members, but even those weren't likely to stay long when it became clear there was nothing to report. Very shortly, Roswell would be devoid of aliens, real aliens, that is, for the first time in over a decade.

"Morning, Mrs. Evans," Valenti said, tipping his hat when she drew abreast of him. "Going back to school?"

"The homework is piling up," Dee nodded. "I'll be glad when I have a job and don't have to take my work home with me."

"Yeah, wouldn't that be nice," Valenti said dryly. "Someday I'll figure out how to do that."

"So where's the FBI?" Dee asked, glancing down the empty street.

"Gone," Valenti answered. "One of the agents had a death in the family."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"Don't be. The agent in question is responsible for causing that death."

Dee blinked. "Oh," she said faintly. "I see."

"Good. Because that's why I kicked you out the other night. I'm sorry I wasn't able to help you, but....well....you've had some experience with what I was dealing with. It's Cavitt all over again."

"Then you did me a favor when you kicked me out," Dee said.

"So I keep telling myself." Valenti paused, looking over at the group on the sidewalk, who were watching as they tried to not look like they were watching. "How's the family?"

"They're fine."

"And what about you? Are you okay?"

"I will be. Eventually."

Valenti's eyebrows rose. "And Miss Harris?"

"She's okay too."

"What about her father?"

Dee hesitated. "With any luck....he's in a better place," she said quietly.

Valenti stared at her for so long without speaking that she began to wonder if he'd heard her. "Does that mean what I think it means?" he said finally.

"If you think it means what I think you think it means.....yes."

Valenti turned abruptly, his hands on the hood of his cruiser, fingers drumming. "How?" he demanded after a moment. "When?"

"Does it matter?"

"Of course it matters," he said sharply, turning around again. "Someone, anyone, dies in my town, it matters. It matters to me. Doesn't this matter to you?"

"Of course it does," Dee said patiently, "but the details are kind of beside the point."

"Mrs. Evans, you came to me the other night with information I would have killed for any other time—"

"And I'm sorry about that," Dee broke in. "I'm sorry I dropped that in your lap. I....I was desperate. I didn't know where else to go. I know we've had our differences, plenty of them, but I also know you're a good person, and you would have helped if you could have."

"Of course I would have," Valenti said. "But you can't expect me to just forget what you said. Just like you can't expect me to forget there's been yet another death in my town."

"Perhaps it's best you do," Dee said. "They were never here for us. Their conflict is with each other."

"That might make me feel better if they hadn't left a trail of bodies behind," Valenti said pointedly, "some of which are human. What about that guy in the woods last weekend? Or the actress? What about that snotty kid, the one who left the day after I confronted him, the one you insinuated had something to do with those weird lights? If their conflict is with each other, they're doing a lousy job of keeping it to themselves."

"You don't need to worry, sheriff," Dee said, sidestepping the issue of war's collateral damage. "They're gone, all of them, both sides. They duked it out, and now they're gone. They've moved on, I have no idea where. It's over."

"Maybe for now," Valenti allowed. "But they'll be back."

"What makes you think that?"

"Simple deductive reasoning," Valenti answered. "They crashed in 1947, but they were still here. Why? Were they waiting for the next bus? Just liked the scenery? No, I'm willing to bet they were here for a reason, and whatever that reason is, it will bring them back here in the future. Am I right?"

Yes, Dee agreed silently. "No," she said out loud, knowing that the hybrids were growing so slowly they were unlikely to cause any headaches in Valenti's lifetime. "I don't think so. I think it's really over, and you won't hear from them again."

"We already have."

"You.....what?"

"There's been another sighting," Valenti answered. "In the wee small this morning, down near Carlsbad, more strange lights in the sky. This time eyewitness reports were more specific: A high percentage reported lights in the shape of a letter 'V'. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you? No, of course you wouldn't," he added when she shook her head mutely. "Well.....if they've moved on as you say, they'll become someone else's problem. But they'll be back eventually, and that's why it isn't over for me. It can't be."

He climbed into his car, setting his hat on the seat next to him. "Safe journey, Mrs. Evans."

"You too," Dee said quietly, waiting until the cruiser had disappeared around the corner before walking back to her family.

"He didn't look happy," David commented.

"He's not," Dee said. "And he's not going to let it go. I told him they were gone, but he won't let it go."

"Of course he won't," Emily said. "He doesn't know how to any more than you do."

"He said there was another 'sighting' down near Carlsbad," Dee said. "Lights in the shape of 'V'."

"That's them," Anthony nodded.

"Due south," David noted. "They're drawing them away."

Everyone was quiet for a moment, their eyes turned south, as though expecting more lights in the sky. "Think we'll ever see them again?" Emily asked.

"Of course we will," Dee said. "Eventually. Even Valenti knows that."





******************************************************





Mescalero Indian Reservation




"I'm sorry to come at such an early hour."

"I was awake," River Dog answered as he and Nasedo hiked through the dark forest, the canopy of trees blocking the little sunlight there was. "The last of the searchers left only a short while ago."

"Empty-handed, of course."

"Of course.....and none too happy about it," River Dog said. A minute passed in silence as he walked behind Nasedo, merely a shape in the gloom. "You haven't said where we're going."

"To the cave," Nasedo replied. "There is something I would show you."

River Dog said nothing, knowing full well that there was nothing in the cave, had been nothing in the cave since the years Nasedo lived there, including his own people, many of whom considered it to be haunted. If there was something there to show him now, it had arrived only recently.

Another fifteen minutes walking brought them to the little clearing outside the entrance, and River Dog dug into his pocket for matches to light a torch as they walked inside.

"Allow me," Nasedo's voice said up ahead.

Soft light suffused the interior, coming from no obvious source. It followed them as Nasedo led him back, further than they had gone when he lived here. River Dog had never been this far into the cave, and had certainly never seen it this well lit. He watched with interest as they followed the various twists and turns until Nasedo finally came to a halt.

River Dog stopped beside him, his eyes widening. A large section of the cave wall was covered with strange symbols he'd never seen before....wait. There was one he'd seen before, the swirling symbol which had appeared in the sky over the skinwalkers, and then again just days ago. The symbol on Mr. Anderson's pendant. The symbol of death.

"What is this?" River Dog whispered.

"Insurance," Nasedo answered. "I am leaving this place. Staying here has become....problematic."

River Dog nodded wordlessly. When one found oneself facing the variety of enemies Nasedo faced, it was definitely time to consider retreat. "When?"

"Immediately. Our enemies have reason to believe we are on the move, and it would be in our best interests to lend credence to that impression."

"Where will you go?"

"I have not yet decided," Nasedo answered. "But I would ask you to consider acting as guardian for some things I must leave behind."

"This?" River Dog asked, gazing at the symbols.

"This," Nasedo confirmed. "And these." He held out a small bag which River Dog recognized. Inside were several of the magic stones which he had used to bring Nasedo back from the brink of death so long ago.

"Why would you have me keep these?" River Dog asked. "Don't you have need of them?"

"I have others," Nasedo answered. "Those who come later may have need of them."

Come later.... River Dog took the bag of stones, wondering what that meant. "What would you have me do?"

Nasedo was quiet for a moment, examining the symbols on the wall, or seeming to. "I have not been entirely honest with you," he said at length.

"You have lied to me?"

"No. But I have not told you everything about my purpose here."

"But I know that," River Dog said. "I have always known. And that is not dishonesty, that is mere caution, and warranted for one in your position."

"Then caution demands that I tell you more," Nasedo said. "I am not the only one from my world to survive on this planet. Others are here as well."

"And these others are the ones who will 'come later'?" River Dog asked.

Nasedo nodded. "They were....injured. We brought them here to heal in relative safety. The healing process will take many years, and during that time, it is possible, although unlikely, that they will be discovered. It is also possible that they will emerge from their healing when I am not here and that they may be confused. With that in mind, I have taken certain precautions. One of those is secreting various things they will need somewhere other than their hiding place so that, if discovered, our enemies cannot take full advantage of them. The healing stones are one. These symbols will lead them to another."

"So....you want me to deliver these," River Dog said slowly. "But how?"

"You don't," Nasedo said. "You wait for someone to come to you. That may never happen; if all goes well, it won't. But if they come, you will lead them here. Bring no light; if they are genuine, they will be able to provide their own light just as I have."

"A test," River Dog murmured. His own culture was replete with tests, so that was not an unfamiliar concept. "And if they do not make their own light?"

"Then they may be imposters. Show them nothing, and be careful, for they are most likely enemies."

"But if they make their own light, I show them this," River Dog said thoughtfully, running a hand over the nearest symbol. "They will know what this means?"

"They should."

"And if they do not?"

Nasedo hesitated. "Then there is nothing to be done," he said heavily. "If they cannot remember on their own, it is best that no one do so for them."

"Will that mean that the healing process has failed?"

"For all practical purposes.....yes."

"Then I will pray it does not fail," River Dog said. "What would these others look like?"

"Like me," Nasedo answered. "Like you. If all goes as planned, you will never see them. These are safeguards, a 'trail of breadcrumbs', as humans would say, in case such a trail is needed. I hope it won't be. But as I cannot predict the future...and that future stretches longer than I would like....I must consider every possible contingency."

River Dog nodded slowly, the bag of magic stones feeling heavier than it had a moment ago. "You said they would not heal for 'many years'. How long is that, exactly?"

Nasedo's gaze was far away, and he suddenly looked older even though he had always seemed ageless. "I am not sure," he replied, clearly troubled. "At this point they should be halfway through the healing process, but.....they're not."

"Can your people not do something for them?" River Dog asked.

Nasedo shook his head sadly. "We have done all we can; there is nothing left but to wait. At their present rate, it may not be you, or even your children, but your children's children who would complete this task, be it necessary to complete it. Which is why I will understand if you decline. It is one thing to make a promise for oneself, and quite another to make it for future generations."

"My people have a long history of oral tradition," River Dog said. "It will not be difficult to preserve your instructions for my children and grandchildren."

"Then you accept?"

"I do. I will guard these and administer your test should the time come, or my descendants in my stead. We can do no less after what you have done for us."

"What I have done for you," Nasedo repeated, his voice heavy with irony. "What have I done for you? Not nearly as much as I should have." He paused. "I loved your father," he added softly. "You know that, don't you?"

"Of course I know that," River Dog said. "And he loved you." He glanced at the strange symbols again. "Is there anything else?"

Nasedo shook his head wordlessly and started back toward the cave entrance. River Dog followed, the magic light following with them, fading only when the cave mouth came into view. They emerged into the clearing outside to find a stiff wind blowing.

"This is where we part," Nasedo said.

"I always knew we would someday," River Dog said. "Although I had hoped it would be because you were returning home."

"That would have been my hope as well. And it's worth remembering that may yet happen."

"Wait," River Dog said when Nasedo began to walk away. "Will I ever see you again?"

Nasedo turned to look at him, barely a silhouette against the trees. "I don't know. Frankly, it might be best if you never do." He paused, a sudden awkwardness in the air. "You have my thanks for your many years of friendship, and my best wishes for you and your family. Live well."

"And you," River Dog whispered as Nasedo strode into the trees with those utterly silent footsteps he had never quite been able to copy. He went looking for him, which was foolish of course, because he knew he wouldn't find him. Nasedo had disappeared like he always did.

Only this time, perhaps for good.




***************************************************




Broad Street Subway Station, 4:00 p.m.

New York City






"We ready?" Ben asked.

"Think so," Pete answered.

"Wait," Ted said, peering into the access tunnel. "Did you check?"

"Sure," Ben said. "No one's there."

"How long ago did you check?"

" 'Bout an hour or so ago. Why?"

Ted sighed and handed his trowel to Ben. "Wait here."

"Ted, we checked," Pete complained. "If they crawled back in, that's their problem."

"Jesus, how do you sleep at night with an attitude like that?" Ted demanded. "Now, wait here. Don't start until I get back. Unless you want to explain to my wife and kids why I never came home."

Ted headed down the access tunnel, ignoring the grumbling behind him. It was dark here, dark and dank, with rats scurrying past his feet and through the puddles of water on the ground, his flashlight doing little to dispel the gloom. Even the newest tunnel was no thing of beauty, but this one had the air of having seen history float by, probably because it had; this was one of the oldest parts of New York's subway, built way back in 1904, an access tunnel off the main line that had become a haven for what polite society referred to as "undesirables". It was those last that Ted meant to fish out of here, even if Ben and Pete already had. An hour was more than enough time for them to come back.

He rounded a corner, ducking when the ceiling became uncomfortably low. There were leavings here, ratty blankets, a coat in shreds, shoes that more closely resembled Swiss cheese. Things had to be in very bad shape indeed for the homeless to leave them behind because another feature of this fine location was the cold. It was bloody cold down here, so cold that even the fires whose remnants he was stepping over had probably done little to warm their makers. It was almost as cold down here as it was streetside, the absence of wind cancelled out by the cold seeping from the rock walls. As shelters went, this was little better than nothing.

A shape loomed ahead, huddled on the ground against the wall. Ted's nose wrinkled as he drew closer, the smell of stale alcohol mingling with the odor of fresh urine, the pungent perfume of the drunk. He knew this particular drunk, having sent him on his way many a time, always under a blanket of guilt. Willy had no place to go but right back here, and tonight, he wouldn't even have that.

"Willy?" Ted whispered, shaking the shape wrapped in a threadbare and probably stolen coat. "Wake up, Willy."

Willy stirred, opened one eye, his face brightening when he saw who stood over him. "Teddy!" he croaked, his breath causing Ted to hastily hold his own. "Did you see 'em?"

"I haven't seen anyone but you," Ted answered. "Where's everyone else?"

"Gone," Willy answered. "They chased 'em off. But I came back. Have to guard'em."

Ted looked around at the empty tunnel. "Guard who? There's no one else here."

"Is so," Willy nodded. "Up on ahead. Angels. Pretty angels."

"Right," Ted sighed. "I need to get you out of here. You'll have to find another place to sleep."

Willy's expression dialed rapidly from rapture to alarm. "Then we have to take the angels, too! Help me get'em. Help me...." He trailed off as his attempt to heave himself to his feet failed and he landed back on the damp ground at Ted's feet.

"We have to go, Willy," Ted said. "Let me help you."

"But we have to get the angels," Willy insisted. "Can't just leave'em here."

"There are no angels," Ted said gently. "That's the bottle talking."

"Are so," Willy said stubbornly. "Little baby ones. Up there."

Baby ones. So that was it. Willy made a point of looking out for the children among the cast-offs, always foraging for warm clothes for them and sharing his own food. "The kids are gone," Ted assured him. "And there are no baby angels. Angels are all grown-ups."

"Says who?" Willy demanded. "You ever seen one? These are little ones, four of 'em, all glowy and everything. See for yourself."

For just a moment, Ted was tempted to do just that. The fact that Willy had cited a number bothered him; why four? Were there kids up further in the tunnel, maybe abandoned by their parents? But his co-workers were waiting, and he didn't have all night. "Is anybody up there?" he called up the tunnel, feeling slightly foolish as his voice bounced off the walls. "If anyone's up there, you need to come out right now."

"Can't hear you," Willy mumbled. "Water.....bubbles......glowy bubbles......"

"Let's go," Ted coaxed, hoisting Willy up by the arm.

"Can't leave 'em!" Willy protested, trying feebly to pull away. "Can't leave'em down here all by theirselves! Just little angels. Little."

Ted heaved a sigh of exasperation as Willy succeeded in pulling free by virtue of gravity alone, collapsing in a heap. He was in no shape to put up much of a fight, but the fact remained that Willy was no beanpole, being two hundred pounds if he was an ounce. Wrestling him out all the way out of here wouldn't be much fun, so it would really be helpful to have even a small amount of assistance.

"They'll be fine," he assured Willy in his best "no monsters under the bed" voice that he used with his own children. "They're angels, right? So God's looking out for them, right? It was nice of you to watch out for them for awhile, but you have to go now. I'm sure God can take over."

Maybe this got through the drunk's hazy mind, or maybe it didn't, and he was merely trying to decipher what Ted had said. Whatever the reason, Willy obligingly half stumbled, half walked down the tunnel with Ted's help, prompting abashed looks when they reached the end of the tunnel where Ben and Pete waited impatiently.

"Shit," Pete muttered. "One of 'em got back in."

"We almost walled him up in there," Ben said faintly.

"But we didn't," Pete said. "Are you sure this is it?"

"All clear," Ted said, setting Willy down gently. "Go ahead and start."

"Angels," Willy mumbled. "Go back....get.....angels."

"What's he going on about?" Pete demanded. "Stupid drunk."

"Willy's not stupid," Ted said firmly. "He looks out for the kids down here. And you're in no position to pass judgment after what you just did. There but for the grace of God go all of us. Leave him alone."

"Yeah, leave him alone, Pete," Ben nodded vigorously. "It's bad karma after what you almost just did."

"Don't you mean what we almost did?" Pete said irritably. But he dropped the subject, grabbing a trowel as Willy curled into a ball, oblivious to the drama. Ted tucked a folded drop cloth under his head for a makeshift pillow and went to work beside the other two, laying bricks end to end, spreading the mortar carefully in-between. The New York Transit Authority had taken over the subway system only four years ago, building new access tunnels and abandoning old ones, among other improvements. This ancient and unused piece of the subway was being closed off, bricked over and painted.

In a little over an hour, no one would ever guess this tunnel even existed.





End of Book Four



~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~



In two weeks...........


It's 1989, and the times are a changin' in Roswell, New Mexico—the Crashdown, formerly Parker's Diner, a long time local favorite, is getting a new sign, and the town is getting a new sheriff. Jim Valenti Jr. is about to take the badge his father lost years ago after the Silo incident, and he's fighting his father's shadow everywhere he goes as he struggles to raise his young son alone. The town he's about to inherit will soon boast two new residents: Philip Evans has bought out a law practice in Roswell and moved here with his wife, Diane, in the hopes that a new home and a new beginning will distract her from the children she's been told she'll never have. Philip's parents, Dee and Anthony Evans, grew up just north of Roswell, and his grandparents still live there, so in some ways he's coming home.

And he's not the only one. Daniel Pierce Jr. is turning 30, and the news of his father's inheritance draws him back to New Mexico, reawakening long dormant desires and rivalries in both the military and the FBI. And Langley is back in town to check on the much-too-slowly growing hybrids. What he finds sends him in search of allies who struggle to help him deal with a situation he never thought to face. The shadow of a decades-long conflict is about to descend on Roswell as old enemies and allies converge, but there's also a ray of hope. Four rays, to be exact. Four new residents who aren't quite what they seem to be.

Watch our pod squad emerge, find out why they don't remember more, and why Max and Isabel wound up with the Evans' while Michael went to foster care and Tess landed with Nasedo in Awakening, beginning Sunday, November 1, 2009.

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